Monday, October 01, 2012

Letter to a lapsed Catholic friend

(--a friend who recently cracked wise about pedophile priests)


St Francis of Assisi once said that if a priest and an angel were to enter his room at the same time, he would kneel to the priest first and ask for his blessing before acknowledging the angel. Now I've known a few sourpusses in the priesthood, but this attitude is approximately mine. Most of the priests I've known have been monstrances. (Not monsters! Monstrances!)

You recall, a monstrance is the displayer of the eucharistic Body of Christ. I look at people like Fr C at the Prudential Chapel, and marvel that our rotten human race has produced such a gem of a human being! I look at Fr W in Roxbury, apostle of racial reconciliation in the 1970s when he was rector of the Cathedral -- now 72 years old, and walking like a man of a hundred. Battered by the wracks and ravages of time, he's nonetheless unstoppable. Looking at him is at least as inspiring to me as looking at a crucifix is to other people. (Our mutual friend D has briefly met Fr W; she'll tell you.)

So yes, I was somewhat offended (but alas, not shocked or surprised), saddened, disheartened, by the facile jibe at the priesthood. It is true that some have given scandal -- some are predators and criminals. To which I respond, "What else is new?" Human beings -- even those in the service of Christ -- don't often distinguish themselves. I don't see that those who have jettisoned Christianity or opposed it (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, to name a few) are notably better than those who have not.

But yes, what the very peaceful, very irenic, very life-giving writer Catherine Doherty once said: "It doesn't seem to affect me at all if priests are sinful or holy, or anything in between. I understand that they are men. But frankly, if I am in need of one of them and know that he is living a sinful life, I would still crawl to him to get absolution for my sins, or to receive Viaticum if I were in danger of death."

That's the rub for me. That charism of priesthood means baptism, confession, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Sacraments are the only things in the world that make sense to me, along with the Rosary and Sacred Scripture.

Sorry to go on at such length. Having said all that, I do concede that the name of that summer camp is gobsmackingly bizarre.



The priest himself may not be worthy of veneration (and as I've said, I've known a couple of clunkers and oddballs and sourpusses), but the priestHOOD is nonetheless worthy of veneration.

About Catherine Doherty: You have to remember that she is Russian.  When one grows up in Communist Russia, and sees priests both Cathoilc and Orthodox being slaughtered for the mere fact of their priesthood -- it instills a sort of protectiveness and a compensatory love.

The priest may be sinful, carnal, uncharitable, mean, base, vile. The priesthood remains worthy of veneration. (Think of it: Would you go to meet any U.S. President at the White House, be he or she Democratic, Republican, Socialist, or Libertarian, in cut-offs and flip-flops and unwashed hair? I certainly wouldn't. If I can afford such respect to Kaiser Blythe, Curious George, and Captain Forward -- none of whom can consecrate the Eucharist, or anoint the sick, or absolve the sinner -- then I can respect the priest.)

And of course, I would address the Presidents as "Mr. President" and not by my pert nicknames!

Yes, you did apologize but you did make the remark nonetheless. (I'm picturing Kevin Kline right now. "Fraid so, old chap! Sorry!") And it was an attack on the priesthood itself, as you made no qualifications about good priests -- and as I've known some to be, heroic priests.

But no, I'm still with Doherty. If I were ever imprisoned for my Catholicism -- not as remote a possibility as I would like! -- I could see myself seeking absolution or Holy Communion from whatever priest is available.

Hypocrites? Fiends? Yes. But in kneeling to the priest, as St Francis and as Catherine Doherty and as Thomas D would, we're not venerating the priest's conduct. (Fr Frank McFarland: "Wouldn't it be horrible if the efficacy of the Sacraments depended on whether I was a saint?") We're venerating the anointing that he received, as it were, from the wounded hands of Christ.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shattered and then mended

The monk must learn how to sin, to be broken, to stand in need, so as to taste the mercy of God. His heart must be shattered and then mended. It thus becomes a map of Christ's mercy. Scars remain deeply engraved on it, making the heart of the monk a testament to the unrestricted forgiveness of God still on offer to every human being.

Michael Downey in TRAPPIST: Living in the Land of Desire (Paulist Press, 1997), p. 72