Thursday, April 29, 2010

When I Die...

When I Die…
Is that morbid enough for a title? To take off some of the edge, I should have put that title in quotes.
Let me explain. We (some of my adult friends; all of us with our peculiar idiosyncrasies) were sitting around a dinner table just last night, when the topic of ‘near-death experiences’ came up. One of the guys ran through some of the more common features of the reports of such an experience: out of body experiences, the tunnel, the light, and so forth; and he recounted how these reports came from all cultures and all ages. And then he asked me what I thought of the matter. Did it have any meaning for me?
I ran off a few lines before I took on the task of answering. Here in stylized summary is what I said: what means more to me than the near-death experience is the death experience. I then went on to recount being there when my parents died—not just at the exact moment of death, but more for the dying experience. The same went for my spouse’s father. I saw in all of them an acceptance of their fate. I said I needed to have that experience; it was important for me to see my elders in their acceptance of their own death.
I finished, more or less, by zeroing in on that phrase, ‘moment of death;’ for it embodies an understanding that this is a special moment: it is something we do and something we experience at the same time. It exists, in a sense, out of time; it does not belong to this time, or the next.
What I did not talk about (it came to me only much later) was another phrase we use when talking about the experience of death: “When I die…”
We often make the claim that words fail us; and we can say that when talking about the moment of death. But sometimes, while words do not capture everything there is to say about a topic, they do give us clues and point us in the right direction. This I believe to be the case with the phrase “when I die…” Most of the time we use it in the context of talking about what we want it to be like when we die: peaceful, free of pain and suffering, surrounded by loved ones. But we also use it thusly: “When I die I will be in heaven with the ones I love.” Note that we do not say, “After I die…”
I will suggest that we do not say “After I die…” because we do not mean what is clearly intended by that phrase; we do not mean to separate the moment of death from the experience of heaven. What we intend to say is this: When I accept that I am in the moment of death, at that moment I will be in heaven.
There; now you can take it from here. Thanks for listening,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Final Word--again

The Final Word—again

I thought about it; I waited for some further clarification; I came to the conclusion that the Vatican is going to try and wait this one out.
What else could it do? This has been its modus operandi for all its 2000 years, hasn’t it? Can you cite one time when the Church leadership led? I can’t. There are all the usual suspects: Galileo, the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, Modernism, the Holocaust, priestly abuse.
But those are the easy ones. Think about the times that are specific to Catholics: birth control, liturgical reform, women’s roles, celibacy, Church governance. That’s my quick list. You probably have your own. But nowhere on all our lists are there examples when the Vatican has had the vision to see where things are headed, the foresight to encourage the study of issues and trends, and the guts to make some hard decisions about what needed to be changed—in order to preserve and pass on the teachings of Jesus.
Every example has ended in reaction. Ah, but the Church changes slowly, some say. I don’t care how slowly it changes; that’s not the issue. It could take 100 years to change—as long as for those 100 years it has been studying, inviting feedback, and engaged in dialog with all sorts of differing points of view.
Again, name me one example. It has instead used all its energy to close off debate, censure those who raise questions, and banish those who insist on pursuing open inquiry into the faith.
As I post this the papers again carry a story of the comments the Pope made at his latest general audience, expressing his sorrow and dismay at what “they” (the abuser priests) did, and to ensure the faithful that the Church will respond accordingly.
And so the waiting continues—for the Vatican it means waiting for the time when all this goes away; for the faithful it means waiting for some accountability for the cover-up still in place. I know which side I am on.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Doing Penance"--Asking for Forgiveness?

The first item I read yesterday, after posting about the Pope/bishops never asking for forgiveness, was an AP story about Pope Benedict talking about "we" Christians needing to do penance for our "sins." Was he asking for forgiveness? I don't know. Let me think about it over the weekend, and get back to you.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

More on the Scandal du jour

More on the Scandal du jour
Below you will be given the option to view yet another document from my files—this one a letter that I wrote to the daily newspaper in Dallas six years ago.
Six years ago! What has happened since then? All sorts of procedures have been put into place to deal with any priests who today are accused of child abuse.
But where are the procedures that deal with the bishops and their lackeys who have covered up—and continue to cover up—past and present child abuse by priests?
Actually, a much more basic question is this: Where is the sorrow and contrition of the bishops—all the way to the present Pope? They are quick to forgive the priests who have “sinned;” but they have never--NEVER—to this point asked for forgiveness for their complicity in this sin. I need say no more.

Click here to download the letter.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

De ja vu Scandal du jour, pardon my French

Where to begin?
It is Thursday of Easter week, and the series , Lent, Inc., is laid to rest. I have not been idle in the interim, however. For the “scandal” has arisen again and has driven wedges everywhere into the fa├žade of the Catholic church. The fissures are many; and there is even talk about the final and lasting collapse of the whole thing.
I have no idea.
What do I know for sure? Only this: I got out well before the shit hit the fan.
But before I did, I lived in two rectories that provided me with living examples of another side of the clerical culture, a side that is strangely absent from all the psycho-babble and hand-wringing about the unnatural effects of enforced celibacy. I speak, of course, of the pastor/housekeeper arrangement.
My first assignment, fresh from 12 years in the seminary, was to a parish, or, rather, to a rectory. Sure, I was sent there to minister to the people. But the real assignment was to live in a house that was dominated by the dynamics that went on between the pastor and his housekeeper. Looking back from my present vantage point, I would slap on the label ‘dysfunctional.’ But that is much too mild. My fellow associate and I were intruders in their household, we were servants, we were ungrateful children. We were anything but fellow servants of the people of God.
I have no idea what really went on in their part of the house—75% by square footage. But judging from the way we were treated, it cannot in any way have been a healthy relationship. In one sense celibacy had everything to do with the situation; in another sense it had nothing to do with it. For the law on celibacy both created the need for some kind of non-sexual intimacy, while at the same time forbidding anything that might hint of it.
Again, I have no idea what characterized their relationship, but I suspect a whole lot of denial went on. And much less denying their own feelings, I suspect the two of them never once talked to each other about how they felt about each other. Or maybe they did, and that was the problem. At any rate, we two associates, and all the people of that parish suffered because of it.
Having petitioned the newly formed diocesan priest’s senate, my fellow associate and I managed to effect the ouster of that housekeeper from the rectory; but the price we paid was to accept transfer ourselves to other assignments.
My assignment was to a parish in small town Wisconsin. There I was welcomed into the rectory by the pastor and his housekeeper—or, I should say, our housekeeper. I never felt as though I was intruding in their house, that I was there to follow the orders of the pastor, or that I had to conform to their image of what a priest should be like. I was part of what went on in that house: we ate our meals together, we worked together, we sat and watched TV together often in the evenings. When I went through a difficult personal issue, I felt at ease talking it over with the pastor.
What do I know about the relationship between the pastor and the housekeeper in that household? Only what I have described. But I think what I have described in many ways resembles family. We as children do not comprehend nor do we talk about the sexual intimacy of our parents ; but we do understand, learn from, and are shaped by their non-sexual intimacy.
The law of celibacy did not do away with the need of intimacy in the lives of priests. That, I suspect, is what stood behind many of the relationships between pastors and their housekeepers. And just as, Tolstoy says, all families are dysfunctional in their own ways, so all rectories were dysfunctional in theirs. But, and this is my main point, dysfunctional or not, the relationship between pastor and housekeeper was what kept many priests sexually healthy—they cared for each other in ways that were more important and meaningful than biological drives.
I went on to only one more assignment, and then I resigned the priesthood and married. What do I know about my relationship with the woman to whom I have been married 35 years in June? Only this, to quote Robert Parker: “Sex enhances love; but not as much as love enhances sex.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

One prays
against the candles’ slow descent into hell
and pictures
the howls of the starving
piercing the lonely sacred hearts
of Jesus and Mary
[they’re hanging in the sacristy now
since the renewal of the church
no one hears the cries
nor sees the pain].

One prays
along the trail of the fourteen stations
while Jesus is railroaded to the tomb
clutching a round-trip ticket.

One prays
in the moment of death
while Jesus walks up and down the aisles
checking the vigil lights
[one if by land
two if by sea
three if you see him come back
as you saw him go
trailing clouds of glory].

[And so ends Lent, Inc. A happy and blessed Easter to all. I will take a day or so off now. See you all soon.]

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Good Friday

It is strange for us to gather here
remembering the death of God again
you’d almost think it would weary him to die so often
shed his blood
just to say to us it isn’t make-believe
it’s not an instant replay
not a tv re-run
and sometimes I even catch myself saying
I know how it ends
you see he rises from the dead
but I won’t spoil it for you.

Strange that we should gather here
we the living who seem so sure of everything
sure that the death of Jesus means something
means everything
when the death of someone loved leaves us lost and lonely
dazed and sorrowful
when our father mother husband wife dies
we are not so sure.

I wonder if Jesus is so sure
that his death has made the difference
when he sees us crowding into churches to mourn his death
while he is dying on the battlefields alone
or dying of a broken heart
in some God-forsaken run-down rooming house
or staring at some babbling flashing Goodwill tv set
in an old age home
while his family is gone to church.

Still the habit strangely draws us to this church
to one another’s comfort in this time of sorrow
death has bound the living closer still
love has reached across the void
all the children have come home
to find each other in the silence of death.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday

In the beginning
and in the end
it is bread and wine we offer
age old food to feed an ageless dream.

We offer this
a somewhat wager
standing in between ourselves.

Water married to wine
wine to blood
blood to flesh
flesh to bread
bread to feed the living
by the word of God
no longer