Tom McMahon provides his own introduction to this new series: "This commentary is born of sources of information that I have experienced within the past week. I will combine five ideas as a continuation of the past commentaries on two forms of priesthood, Jesus servant type and 1500's liturgical Council of Trent sacramental priest. These new/old themes constitute a cultural revolution that never took place. In this series we will look at Fr. Bill Lenane's recent funeral; a review of Irish priest Eamonn Fitzgibbon's PAINTED INTO A CORNER, found in the October 2011 edition of The Furrow [LINK]; my reflection on Dr. John N Collins' THE FUTURE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH – THE FUTURE OF THE PRIESTHOOD [LINK]; spotty re-reading of Hoge and Schoenher's text books; and a re-read of the Document on Priesthood from Vatican Two. All five are high energy considerations. All five co-mingle and will be worked into this forthcoming series. I intend to circulate these commentaries among local Roman clergy and peers of my seminary and priestly days, hoping for feedback."
My Return to Brigadoon ... an avalanche of information …
I was made most welcome by the clerical brotherhood at Fr. Bill Lenane's funeral. [Click HERE for Pop-out from Commentary #212]
It was like I had never left Roman ministry 22 years ago. The bishops and priests present are my long time friends. I see them as genuine followers of Jesus our Christ. They have been caught in the chaos of evolutionary changes, as well as confusing opposition to Vatican Two since the early days of John Paul the 2nd. It is the People of God versus Trentan Institutional Church now under the leadership of a bishop once known as God's Rottweiler.
When I go back to seminary I speak of myself as Peck's Bad Boy returning home. I often re-think the Gospel story of the Prodigal son, wondering at times who the run away might be while most sure of the Abba/Father/God role. Blessed to be on the side lines as the parade goes by this "naughty" boy from 15th street often sees the emperor without his clothes. (Fine article by Fr Dan Donovan on Catholica on The Emperor's New Clothes: LINK)
I have titled this commentary My Return to Brigadoon in light of an essay I wrote in 1997 titled Brigadoon-dos, my "innocent" tongue-in-cheek reflection about my 26-year odyssey in Roman institutional ministry and my departure two decades ago. [Click HERE or the graphic at right to read the first part of that essay in a pop-out window.] This is the first publication of that 1997 essay. It is a long Ulysses' type trek that confronted this priest as he ventured through the Scylla and Charybdis dangers of clerical life; the lonely hero priest who had memorized the documents of Vatican Two and was seeking ways to bring my church into the modern world. Everybody's friend, respected, retired San Francisco priest, Father Jim O'Mally, ordained 1946, said of his time in priesthood "It was a great ride". I echo Jim as my 26 institutional years were a precious experience of enjoying people.
I came home from Fr. Bill Lenane's funeral very pensive, in no way confused yet resolved I would write about a cataclysmic clash that took place in my inner being. They say the twain will never meet yet it did in a head-on collision as this lone wolf yesteryear priest who turned himself into the family man found himself immersed in a fire fall of bitter-sweet memories and conflicting emotions and thoughts. My present challenge is to offer a meaningful commentary on the chaos. I shall address next week the homily in which the liturgical cleric got tumbled like in a clothes drier with the Jesus servant priest.
The goal of clerical perfection...
Perfection in every aspect of life was the goal of the monastic way of life dating from the early centuries of Christianity. For example even 4th Century monastic rule had severe penalties for paedophile monks. With the Fall of the Roman Empire followed by the Dark Ages the tree of education begins to be firmly rooted and, while limited, gets a sound start in the monastery system. In its tightly closed and highly disciplined male environment, a monk was expected to become perfect in morals and intelligence so as to imitate the Perfection of the All Powerful and Almighty God. It seems that the God of the monastic way was severe, distant, and ready to cast the sinful into eternal hellfire. A divine natured Jesus was always taught as perfect with rare reference to his humanity. A high standard of perfection was demanded of the monk and a library of conceptual theologies became the norm. The "head trip" theology that is our inheritance in the 21st century was conceived and brought to full life a thousand years ago at a time society had no middle class and was in general illiterate. Vatican Two was a summons to return to the gentle forgiving human way of the historical Jesus. I imagine the day will come, hopefully soon, when a married Jesus, a parent-lover of a woman, will be a worldwide model for young men. Australian Bishop Geoff Robinson recently called for a complete overhaul of the spirituality of human sexuality [LINK].
The impact of secular education...
With the passage of centuries and the dawn of the Renaissance, the monastic grip on education loosened with the growth of the great universities of Europe and England, they opening up universal education to all comers. In our modern age, the explosion of universities, colleges and other institutes of tertiary education boggles the mind. Our six-year-old grandson is on his fourth Harry Potter book and he knows what he is reading. One should hear him imaginatively bantering about Lorre Gustafson or other Potter characters with his grandmother and retired pastor Bill, both of whom have read the Potter series. (I have not read a Harry Potter book; Benedict has condemned such as bad spirituality.) The other day I had the pleasure of reading to my granddaughter, Audrey (2), a farm animals book; Audrey loudly proclaims all the sounds that go with each picture. The tree of education has become full blown. In my lifetime education has flowed from a trickle to a torrent ... and watch out you males the women are way out front. I have often said "when you women are in complete control please don't forget us poor male blokes". Give us a break as we tried hard and meant well.
The confusing clash presented by priesthood today...
Before I go on I want to stable my sanity by offering an unrelated story from which I take assurance that I was on the right track when I embarked on a Vatican Two educational path. Keep in mind as I was/am confronted with new information I have experienced massive core changes, leaving me quite alone — my spiritual ventures are of no interest to my blood family. For 36 years I did prize our home-based community as we learned together, now age making us a dying reality. As the little boy from 15th Street writes from inside a vacuum, my family sees me as a puzzle and in no way shares in my educational efforts. (Catholica, you have become my genuine sounding board.)
My story: When our son Tommy applied for a library job in South San Francisco in 2005 the female head librarian said to him: "Interesting, you have the same last name as the best priest who ever served here in South City". Tommy replied "He is my father!" This 2005 story offers me confidence in myself and my spiritual direction as the librarian recounts my reform efforts that date back to pre-Vatican Two days of 50 years ago. I do believe in the holy spirit of genuine life that was passed on to me, particularly by my mother. Mom's wholesome outlook about priesthood, life, and God is today my guiding beacon. Mom's formal education was limited yet Mom had an expansive understanding of the gift of life and how to relate to others. Mom was a Jesus' follower, a servant priest.
The cataclysmic clash came last week as I sat in a back pew of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto; this 83-year-old watching four crimson-clad bishops and nineteen white-robed priests preside over the funeral rite of a priest once my contemporary in those ever-so-peaceful seminary days of the 1940's. We were forever-14-years-old destined to pastor thousands and all we had to do was obey the rule and go with the flow. There was no challenge to grow up, nothing would ever change. As I sat watching I experienced a massive clash of theologies inside a divided Roman institution. The separation of bishops and priests from laity spoke thunderously to me. This before my eyes was not the Church in the Modern World as spoken of in Gaudium et Spes at the Second Vatican Council. Before me was the apartheid that John the 23rd, Yves Congar, Rahner, Haring, Schillebeeckx, etc. etc. etc. opposed — and Archbishop Oscar Romero had died unmasking. My heart ached. The rank and file priests have no idea of this separation; bishops have to.
Upper most in my mind was Table 2.9 as found on page 28 in Dean Hoge's THE FIRST FIVE YEARS OF PRIESTHOOD. It contains agreement or disagreement to questions in a survey of priests. I focus on two of the eight. They read: "ordination confers on the priest a new status which makes him essentially different from the laity" and "a priest must see himself as a man set apart by God". I don't recall how I voted as I actually took Hoge's survey as an active pastor 30 years ago. I do recall that in the Document on Priests from Vatican II I was angered and confused when the Council pointed out that one of the chief obligations of the pastor was to form "communities of faith" ... Community — what was that and what did that mean to a celibate? By 1970 or so I am awakening to the realization that I am a lone wolf seeking to become a member of community. I was maturing as a human being, no longer 14. Yet the brotherhood we formed as young boys seemed to stand strong with healing power enough to hold me within the celibate ranks ... for another ten years. The idea that God is love haunted me. I became aware and jealous of my clerical peers who left ministry to love and marry.
There was a genuine and yet confusing combination of two priesthoods at Bill Lenane's funeral mass. I watched a girl about ten frequently turning away from the sanctuary and burying her face in her mother's coat. I was fascinated by her body language: tired? bored? disinterested? afraid? Mother paid no heed and I wondered what the image of priest said today to that child? I pondered the medieval setting before me and was amazed as I witnessed the cultural revolution that never took place. The theology and setting were right out of a 1500's Trent. The church before me was not of the modern world. Like Alice in Wonderland I found myself wandering after the mystical ball that had fallen into a deep hole. Where had my confidence and faith in institution gone since the day I said my first Mass? Had the robed priests done any theological study since their day of ordination? The sanctuary was jammed with colorful medieval costumes while in the world of 2012 the main episcopal issue was their continued condemnation of contraception. Two young altar boy-girls in monastic robes confused my eye, something like my wonderment about virgin-mother combination.
I had been a grade school altar boy for five years, 12 years in seminary and 26 years in institutional priesthood. IT WAS IN MY BONES AND I WAS ONE OF THEM AND YET I NO LONGER BELONGED. My prayer was/is Veni Sancte Spiritus — loosely translated: hurry up Holy Spirit ... times awasting, at least this seems to be the thinking of Editor Brian who editorializes for the reform effort to finish up quickly ... patience Brian! We are coming full-circle in a five hundred year reform effort. It is taking place in God's time right before our daily eyes. A balance is slowly tipping in favor of the thinking laity.
To be continued next week ... as the Irish say God willing!
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. St Patrick's Day 17Mar2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?