After reading this commentary from Tom McMahon you might well ask if the present problems institutional Catholicism is facing stem not so much from the requirement for celibacy in their priesthood and their incapacity to deal with the questions of human sexuality but the emasculation of personhood that being a priest has traditionally entailed? This is raw stuff and personal but it's not only a commentary for priests but for all of us. What does it actually mean to be "a person"?
Now, shall we search for the meaning of person?
In reference to the LCWR and the Vatican troubles Editor Brian questioned Tom if he had seen anything like this in his younger years as a priest? Tom thought about it, coming up with a yes and no response and finally settling on looking at just one word as used in a number of related stories. Understanding the word person has helped Tom appreciate the massive changes in the Roman institution today. Person is evolutionary, on going in development. Yes, Brian, I have all my life seen a growing understanding of personhood and especially its accompanying opposition. All changes in the Roman Catholic system are premised on the evolutionary understanding of the human person. A medieval mindset derails the present Roman leadership. The present pope is blind to an evolutionary reality. Nuns today are persons.
I was a young seminarian when I stood watching in New York City's Grand Central Station as a thousand human beings moved in criss-cross patterns to board various departing trains. The station was no place to hold a conversation. There was no time to express oneself as a person. In a fast enveloping consumer culture the individual human being was becoming the consumed. During and after World War Two we were becoming a robot society on the assembly line of life. As Henry Ford accustomed America to the assembly line the Roman Catholic Church began to assemble its parishes in the suburbs, its children becoming baptismal statistics; depersonalized nuns would see to it that no individual person broke conformity. Clerical domination over the layman's mind would explode when catholic women and men saw the betrayal of human nature in Pope Paul the 6th's birth control encyclical. The Catholic-Christian person was becoming of age.
A disappearing culture...
Brian, I experienced a disappearing human culture back in the 1930's as I watched my priest-uncle Tuck struggle to be a human being as the office of priest continually consumed his personhood. He had forfeited his right to being human when he entered the seminary in 1910.
Uncle Tuck, Pastor Tom Bresnahan, built three churches in less than ten years, careful to serve his people in a then mechanical sacramental Church. His human needs were satisfied with his weekly visit to our home, my mother – his sister – his only legitimate human contact. Uncle Tuck gave me my first Lionel train for Christmas 1936. As he aged the stress of medieval clerical demands broke his health. I was at his bedside as he died and I watched his re-taking of personhood as he rejected the sacraments to which he had dedicated his adult life, preferring the presence of his sister to that of the hospital chaplain. I was well aware as a priest ordained six years of this human being realizing he was about to surrender the gift of life and the resentment he had that he had forfeited much of life when he entered the seminary. Ordained only a few short years I profited by my uncle's belated awareness and I knew in 1960 that I would someday forfeit the power and glamour of the clerical state so as to live. Being a person and being a Roman Catholic priest were virtually incompatible. A future of uncertainty was ahead of me and I knew its loneliness. I held on aware that the people were in the growing stages of a free life and they needed guidance. People were becoming persons. The last dozen years of my life as institutional churchman were a high wire balancing act between the needs of the People of God and my own personal needs. For me there was no church guide or church future in that hospital room yet there was my mother, a woman of hope who believed in the goodness of life and an ever presence of Jesus her Christ. Within that same year I would stand before John the 23rd and this genuine human being would offer me a radical change in life style. I would reject the seminary's Jansenism and I would begin full bore the process of reclaiming my personhood.
In days before American presidents flew in helicopters there was a secret entrance level through which Franklin Delano Roosevelt slipped undetected into the Big Apple's Grand Central Station, his protective armored car awaiting him. The mighty and the humble come and go in life's train stations/airports in silence. In silence – aka lack of human contact and communication the human spirit dies. At 83 my cup of life is running over. Easter Sunday at our home with five grand kids into a joyful egg hunt is reward a-plenty for my decades of clerical non personhood.
The meaning of the word "person"...
This morning I had tires replaced on our old Toyota. The tire shop is a Mexican family-owned business. The 25-year-old, recently married female and I chatted about family values as she wrote up my bill. I sensed in her a goodness and strength that speaks well to future generations. She wrote down how to find Catholica on the Internet. I do not know her name yet I am aware that she is a real person.
The word person is from the Latin "per" which translates "thru", and "son(a)" which could be easily seen as "sound" or voice or noise. Webster offers a Greek stage approach saying "a face mask", a character (actor) to send through. Better yet Webster continues with a post-French Revolution definition of "person" as an individual human being, esp. as distinguished from thing or lower animal, an individual man, woman or child. A woman in the 12th century would not be seen as person but as a thing, a commodity to exchange in psuedo marriage. Today Rome's idea of women is medieval.
Readers might recall my commentary while in Australia in 2009...
Amongst the many fascinating conversations we had at Carcoar a few weeks ago with Tom McMahon was one on the ways in which we mask our true nature. For his commentary today Tom expands on that conversation. It is the first of two commentaries he intends to bring us as a sort of "report" on his Aussie Odyssey. Link to Original Commentary.
A story comes to mind concerning Grand Central Station...
The first story was told decades ago by Eugene Kennedy (or was it one of the Berrigan brothers?) regardless the teller is a young priest who travels through Grand Central regularly eventually being stopped by a wayward man down on his luck. The young cleric is tired and, wanting to catch his train home, brushes off the unwelcome. Turns out the man is a priest broken from alcohol and is seeking opportunity to talk with a fellow priest. The end result has a Jesus' ending as the busy cleric takes time to recognize the person in the downtrodden. It is important to note here my use of the word PERSON.
The second story comes from my listening on my car radio to an audiobook THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, which became an award-winning movie staring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. The English butler is described as a what not a who and Hopkins plays the role of the depersonalized servant who carries on his duties while his aged father is stricken and dies.
The British tradition of the emotionless servant working for upper class royals is being undermined by World War One and a common bonding of all English citizens. One hears rare reference to the human person and certainly only a cautious reflection on emotions, fears, angers, hates, imagination, love and disappointment, etc. – all qualities implanted in us human beings by a loving Creator. Being human is part of my faith/creed of life as a follower of the human Jesus.
Now in my 83rd year of life with more than six decades dedicated to reform of the Roman Catholic institution I can honestly sum up my goal in for the remaining years of my life in a few simple words: to love my neighbor, myself and all creation. I'm sure my Creator will be pleased. My neighbor is the world's people and creation is our Creator's gifted play yard. Today at my grandson's baseball game with blue eyes, blond curly hair and rosy cheeks, Adrianne, almost 2, picked up small woodchips and placed in my grandpa hands and then had me turn them over, gleefully watching them drop and be picked up again ... and again ... and again till her span of attention ran out. I thought of Jesus telling us to be like little children. I am delighted to be taught by Addie and her two brothers, Nicko 4, and, Sebbie 6. They are persons in formation.
NEXT WEEK: Let's go more on person next week ... even daring to bring up the imaginary perfect person.
Tom McMahon, not mister or father or any title, just a plain "person". 14May2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?