Monday, March 29, 2010

Entering Holy Week in the midst of scandal

My father is a former seminarian from Cathedral in Brooklyn who keeps in regular contact with the men who were in his classes. They refer to each other as "The Brothers" discussing all manner of subjects, including the environment, politics and of course, religious matters, via email. The majority of this brotherhood either never made it to ordination (like my dad), or subsequently left the priesthood afterwards.

One of the men who left is a gentleman named Tony Equale. He left the priesthood after a number of years and subsequently married. Since the death of his wife several years ago he's written a book An Unknown God: Essays in Pursuit of the Sacred.

I read the first of these essays, which he tells his story and levels criticism at the Roman Catholic Church. I'd not had a chance to finish the book, as I borrowed it from Dad, and he wanted to critique it for Tony. I do look forward to continuing it, though.

Dad forwarded me part of an email correspondence from Tony (with his permission)that reminded me a good deal of his book's first essay. I don't know how the correspondence started; perhaps as a result of the recent revelations about the sex abuse scandals in Europe and the Holy Father's purported role in it. Now I know Mr. Equale's arguments go much deeper than that, down to the core of the nature of God and Church, and he believes that the Church is fundamentally flawed, that one must leave, or be complicit with her flaws. However, since the widening abuse scandals are weighing heavily on MY mind this Holy Week, I responded to my father thusly, and asked him to forward the response to Mr. Equale:

Maybe I am too comfortably entrenched in the Catholic faith as I understand it. While I understand and agree with where Tony is coming from to a certain extent, I have to comment on where he states the unequivocal reason people won't leave the Roman Catholic Church is because they think of its clergy and its structure as "God". I can only speak authoritatively on my own experience. Dad, you know I have struggled long and hard about some of the implications of dogma and doctrine. I know you have as well.

So why do I stay? More importantly, why do I actively participate in the Church's ministries when I've had such doubts?

Because - outside of the laughter of my children and the love of my wife - it is primarily within the Church's Sacraments, sacramentals, and various ministries I've participated in that I have felt the presence of God. I don't experience this all the time, and the power of the experiences vary. I can't explain it much past that. It's a comfort, a confidence and a peace. I'm not arrogant enough to call these experiences "mystical" in the classic sense. I am conscious of God's presence during said experiences. I've not experienced them anywhere else.

Don't get me wrong...there are serious, serious problems in the Roman Catholic Church. The abuse scandals and their cover-ups are now worldwide. My GODSON was baptized by an abuser. However, do I for one second believe that JT's baptism was not valid? It was the Church...the body of believers...that made it happen, not a scoundrel of a priest.

The Church, as I understand it, is the Body of Christ. Like Christ, the Church is human AND it is of God. Christ never promised a perfect Church. He only promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. They haven't.

Tony and I differ on one fundamental issue. What he has apparently labeled as a fundamental flaw in the Church...the clerical one of the reasons I remain. I believe in the OFFICE of the priesthood as the Church has defined it. That the priest is a vessel for the grace of God DURING THE PROPER SACRAMENTAL MOMENTS. If the consecration of the Host into the Real Presence of Christ, or the absolution in the Confessional depended on the impeccability of the priest, there would be no Church, there would be no Sacraments. I am comforted knowing a lousy sermon or a crappy priest does not change the presence of the mystical Body and Blood, nor does it nullify absolution.

Tony seems to believe that the best way to enact the necessary changes in the institutional church, one must leave. I don't agree. I believe true change will come from within...Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, Pax Christi, and the leaders trained through programs like PFI [my diocese's pastoral formation institute for lay leadership]. Sr. Lauren said something to us during our PFI orientation, "YOU are the future of the leadership of this Church. Don't forget that."

I haven't. Perhaps I'm overly optimistic. I love my Church. End of story.

I do enter Holy Week with a heavy heart because of the scandals. Sometimes it seems to justify Mr. Equale's position on the institutional Church all the more (he is a gifted and intelligent writer; his essay made me think). However, I do have Hope. There is an empty tomb to behold in less than a week's time!

Pax et Bonum,

PS - You can purchase Mr. Equale's book An Unknown God, Essays in Pursuit of the Sacred here:

Monday of Holy Week
Daily Mass Readings
Isaiah 42:1-7
Psalm 27:1-3,13-14
John 12:1-11

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