Sunday, May 20, 2018

Thoughts on the decline of a lilac bush...


I really like lilacs. Their perfume is intoxicating. I have a few lilac bushes on my family’s country estate, Blithering Heights, a quarter-acre of gracious living in rural Illinois. I am a little worried about one of the bushes. A lot of the branches are no longer putting out buds. They are clearly dead, though they still seem to be part of the plant. Another curious thing, when the branch which looks so strong and solid no longer puts out buds, it is easy to pull it out of the bush. It just has no connection to its roots. I imagine that the death of the branch starts in its detachment from the roots and the symptom of its death is that it has no buds, no new leaves or flowers.

Europe is dying and the European Church is dying. By Europe I mean Europe and her colonies, the Americas, Australia and a few other places. No new buds, no new life. European civilization was founded by one man, Paul of Tarsus. He was the first person of whom it could be said “Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian.”  One theory is that Paul’s grandparents were enslaved during the wars of the Roman general Pompey in Syria and the Holy Land around 60 BC and his family became Roman citizens when they were given their freedom.  They were possibly deported as slaves to the city of Tarsus, an important Roman city that was culturally Greek. It’s probable that Paul’s first language was Greek. In his epistles and in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul quotes classical Greek dramatists, poets, philosophers and even comedians. He seems to have been steeped in Greek culture. At some point he went back to Jerusalem for his education and claimed to have studied with the Rabbi Gamaliel. He was on the rise in the religious/civil bureaucracy when he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and so became a Christian. He was quite literally the first person to be Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian all at the same time.  The culture that made the best of the modern world was born in one man, Paul.

Fast forward 1,700 years to France and the Age of Enlightenment, around 1715 to 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution.  “Les philosophes,’’ the philosophers of the period, men like Voltaire and Rousseau, held that human reason is the only possible source of authority. They laughed at the claims of revealed religion in general and at Catholicism in particular. They believed they were returning to the virtues of the ancient world. They were very Greco-Roman, but not Judeo-Christian. The result of their rejection of two of the four legs of our civilization was and is complete collapse. The Enlightenment ended in 1789 when it bore the fruit of the French Revolution.  I suppose that the Enlightenment has been the mother of all subsequent revolutions. The belief that man is the measure of all things and that human reason is enough resulted in terror of the French revolution, which begot the Napoleonic wars which begot the First World War which in its turn begot the Second World War, the Russian, Chinese, Cambodian and all the revolutions since. The platitudes which seemed so reasonable in the salons of Paris have been used to justify an unequalled extinction of human life that still continues. Reason seems so well, reasonable. It may be reasonable but it’s really very pointless. If there is no law beyond my own reason and no life beyond this one, then what is the sense of it all? The reasonable conclusion of the philosophers is that I am the center of the universe. This makes for a very pointless universe.

The enlightened world is perishing. One occasionally hears that “nones” people of no religious conviction are a growing group. The “nones” are growing only in societies that are dying. The atheism that was made fashionable in the French enlightenment is shrinking as a part of the world’s population. Religion is on the rise, for good or for ill. Why? Because religious people have children. They believe that there is a purpose to existence beyond one’s own self, so it’s worth the effort to bring more people into the world.

In July, some of us will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which Pope Paul VI reasserted as infallible Catholic teaching that artificial means of birth control were seriously morally wrong. For this he was roundly mocked and ignored. It was unreasonable. Now country after country is experiencing a decline in its working population. Much of the world is becoming an unfunded retirement home. One can ignore a pope or a teaching of the Church, but one cannot ignore history. Much of the current chaos of the world is the result of the death of societies.

The Islamic world is experiencing the most dramatic decline of human fertility in the history of humanity. World fertility is just under 2.5 children per woman. This is just about the replacement rate for a third world population. The scary part is that the fertility rate will most likely continue to plummet, resulting in a shortage of that most precious resource: human beings. When the world is full of old people, those old people will starve. It’s already happening in some places. We have said “no” to life and “no” to the author of life. Pope Paul warned us and we laughed at him.

Recently there was a gala to raise funds for the New York Metropolitan Opera. The theme was, “Heavenly Bodies, the Catholic Imagination.”  Models dressed in revealing parodies of clerical vestments.  There was a work of art, a “bondage mask” covered with rosaries on display. Once again, the enlightened laugh at the faith.

What hurts is that enlightened sophisticates claiming the title of Catholic joined in the fun. It’s upsetting to faithful Catholics, but the problem will solve itself in the long run. People who believe in Catholic truth are still having children. They still learn how to love by generously giving life. They are uninterested in the enlightened narcissism that has been gnawing away at the roots of the tree since fools like Voltaire and Rousseau threw God out of the equation. Part of the tree, the part that is still connected to the roots is still putting out leaves and flowers. The rest has died and doesn’t even know that it’s dead.

The Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, April 22, 2018

What do you think of a married priesthood - part 2

Dear readers and those who line bird cages with my articles,

After Easter I am finally able to return to the topic proposed by Sally Bates regarding the possibility of married priests in the Amazon River basin in South America. As promised, I will take on the real challenge: the wives of married clergy.  Some people feel pity for the poor priest who must live their lives without the comfort of married life. Who are they kidding? There is a reason that we insist on marriages taking place in church. There are altars in churches and altars are where sacrifices are made.

I think much more of the poor wives of the clergy than of the poor clergy. Let us not forget that the protestant congregations who have married clergy are independent financial units whose physical facilities are not owned by the local bishop.  This means that a congregation hires a pastor and any other clergy. They also set the pay scale for the clergy they hire, and they are reasonably looking for the biggest bang from the smallest buck. I have heard that some congregations will not hire an unmarried clergyman, not because they hold marriage and the married in such high moral esteem, but because if they hire a married clergyman for a substandard wage they are getting a “two-fer,” or two for the price of one.

The pastor’s wife is expected to run the bake sale, the women’s group the lady’s bible study etc. She is not paid. After all, they are paying her husband and sometimes generously providing a parsonage (rectory with a leaking roof, a flooding basement and a collapsing porch.) This justifies paying the clergy half of what they might earn in the world. Just try to pry a few extra shekels form a church board of tight-fisted business men and women.  It is humiliating enough for an unmarried man, but to subject one’s wife to such financial scrutiny by a board is just cruel. This already happens in the Catholic Church without married clergy.

Increasingly, I hear horror stories of lay business administrators questioning what a priest eats and how warm his rectory is. Believe me it is humiliating to have one’s refrigerator scrutinized by a committee. Imagine if you are the wife of said clergy man whose very housekeeping skills are questioned by a committee of her neighbors. Of course, we can expect absolute confidentially from a committee of parishioners.  In a pig’s eye, we can! (I love that phrase. So vivid, though I have no idea what it means.)  One hears the gossip at the post liturgy feed. “Do you realize how much she spends on food? And on our dime! It must be nice.” 

I often meet parishioners in grocery stores and quickly look to make sure there is nothing more than haute cuisine in my basket than beans and weenies. If we are going to have married clergy anywhere, even in the Amazon, they will have to be paid a living wage that will allow the pastor and his wife to maintain a separate and private residence and to provide their own sustenance. Don’t forget that we in the church expect that one is open to life. If a pastor and his wife have only one child or none, there will be speculation as to why. Perhaps they are not getting along. Perhaps they are practicing, horror of horrors artificial birth control. Public scandal! At least in the opinion of parishioners who have themselves always used the pill. A good pastor’s wife will be expected to run the “women’s work” so-called of the parish for free while simultaneously working outside of the home to make up for the poverty inflicted on her by the pious. Carrying all these burdens she will also be expected, being Catholic to pop out children on an annual basis. I am clearly exaggerating, aren’t I? Maybe. Maybe not.

I write all these horrible things to urge those wiser and holier than myself who run things in the church to really examine the issue by studying the wives and children of the clergy to see if it is as good an idea as everyone thinks. We may be just digging the hole wider and deeper.

I did get some interesting responses from people who seem to know about this stuff a little. “History is there for a reason and to know history should help us not repeat it when it is bad history.” My correspondent goes on: “One other point is that the congregation is asked to give more and if the preacher’s family is living better than others who are asked to give more there is scandal. Another consideration is that a college education for the preacher’s children is being paid for by a congregation who may have members who cannot afford to send their own kids to college. Why should they have to pay for the preacher’s children etc....?

Consider the classic problem of the PK’s (preacher's kid). Billy Graham’s own son Franklin was a prodigal for years.  He finally repented, but I can imagine that was not sweetness and light at Casa Graham in those years. A pastor is a father to his congregation, at least in the current Catholic conception of things. For a father to love another’s child as much as his own defies nature and even sound morality. I have known a lot of PK’s who have bitterly resented the fact that they had to share their father and mother’s affection with a lot of other people.  Marriage is a full-time job. Fatherhood is a full-time job. If we have married clergy, they cannot and should not be called father by their congregation any longer. A lot of preacher’s kids I have known have turned out wonderfully, but a lot have had very sad lives.

If we do go this route, we should not consider ordaining men who are still raising children. Younger than say, 55 years of age would probably be the minimum in this day and age. When the marriage has worked out and the kids are raised and out of the house, maybe then. Not before.  Remember that the word priest is derived from “presbyter” the Greek word for elders.  I was an elder at the age of 25. Who are we kidding? I was a jerk like most twenty-five-year-olds.  If we are going to have a married clergy in the Catholic Church, we had darn well better make sure that they are elders. Haven’t we had enough scandals already?

Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, April 1, 2018

An aside on this Easter day

Dear Friends,
I know I promised to write about priest’s’ wives, but it’s Easter and I would like to talk about something else, so next week I’ll continue to talk about the fascinating topic of the possibility of priests in the Amazon basin having wives or of wives having priests, if you are not a chauvinist like me. Fascinating. Can’t wait. 
Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I want to recommend a movie. It’s called “Risen”. (2016 starring Joseph Fiennes) It’s the story of a Roman soldier who is assigned the task of finding the body of Jesus of Nazareth after his tomb is discovered empty. He finds the body sure enough; the problem is that it is alive and walking around.
The movie is excellent archeologically, theologically and really a cliff hanger.  The first thing about the movie is that there is no “hill of Calvary”. Jesus is not taken up a hill to be crucified. That’s exactly accurate historically. Jesus was not crucified on a hill far away. He was crucified in a quarry downtown. The traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion was just outside one of the main gates of ancient Jerusalem. Romans didn’t want to waste a perfectly good execution. It was meant to be horrible and very public. The point was, “Do bad things against Roman rule and this is what will happen to you.” The movie is not explicit about the location of the tomb, but the scriptures say that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea in which Jesus was buried was right there in the same abandoned quarry. Therein lays the problem. Because Jesus’ execution was public, his burial and his empty tomb were also public. The movie spins out the theory that they had to find the body in order to end the ridiculous story that Jesus had risen from the dead. That is the central point of the movie. No one can deny the tomb is empty. No one has ever denied the tomb was empty. They just want to explain the empty tomb with anything but a miracle.
Another great point about the movie is its tremendous portrayal of the resurrection. Most people think of the resurrection as resuscitation. Jesus wakes up, stretches, yawns and walks out of the tomb. Risen portrays the resurrection in a completely different way. The resurrection is an EXPLOSION!  Jesus doesn’t walk out of the tomb. He explodes out of the tomb. I am sure you know about the Shroud of Turin. It is the most mysterious archeological artifact in existence. It has been the subject of more man hours of scientific research than any other similar artifact and still they cannot quite explain how it was made.
There were radio carbon dating tests in the last century that claimed to date the shroud to the middle ages, but those tests have been pretty much proven to be only those of a medieval patch that was sown on to the cloth. In other words the sample taken from the cloth was not really the cloth. More recent tests of vanillin content and other linen properties date the Shroud to the time of Christ. Whether you claim that the shroud was the burial cloth of Christ or a medieval forgery, you still can’t explain how the burn marks on the cloth were made. That’s what makes up the image, faint burn marks that rest on the top fibrils of the top fibers of the cloth. Take a razor blade, scrape the cloth and the image disappears.
So, there is this perfect negative image of a tortured, spear-pierced, thorn-crowned, crucified Jewish man that couldn’t be really be seen until the invention of photography. The cloth is covered with a kind of limestone dust that comes only from Jerusalem, and soaked with blood and blood serum that was invisible until the invention of ultra-violet lights. There also seem to be coins on the eyes of the fellow that were minted by Pontius Pilate around 29 AD. The cloth is covered with pollen from plants that bloom in spring only in the area of Jerusalem.
So maybe it’s a really, really good medieval forgery, or maybe it’s the real thing. Either way, there is no way to explain exactly what made those burn marks which have such unique photographic properties, including photo negativity and three dimensionality as well as holographic information. Well, there wasn’t until recently.
It seems that an intense explosion of ultraviolet light can make those kinds of marks, at least according to researchers from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) in Italy. The Shroud is far beyond the capability of medieval forgers. "(Our) results show that a short and intense burst of UV directional radiation can color a linen cloth so as to reproduce many of the peculiar characteristics of the body image on the Shroud of Turin.” The explosion of intense light would have had to be only billionths of a second in duration to make the marks without destroying the cloth. Furthermore at the present time there aren’t enough lasers in the world to scorch a cloth so instantly with such perfect precision.
So there you have it. The Shroud of Turin was formed by an instantaneous explosion of light brighter than the sun. Another interesting observation comes from Dr. Isabel Piczek, a particle physicist. She holds that the image on the Shroud shows the total absence of gravity. The shroud represents an event horizon. In other words the laws of the universe demand gravity, space and time, a least since the Big Bang in which the universe began. The Shroud seems beyond time, space and gravity. The body represented in the cloth seems to stand outside these physical necessities. I think of the words of the Nicene Creed, “Light from light, True God from true God.”  I think, too, of another quote from the Gospel of Luke (16:31) “'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Rev. Know-it all

Sunday, March 25, 2018

What do you think of a married priesthood?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I have heard that they are thinking of allowing some priests to marry somewhere in some jungle far away. What are your thoughts?  I thought priests were supposed to be unmarried celibates.
Sally Bates
Dear Sally,
I think you are talking about a Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2019 in which bishops from Latin America’s Amazon region will meet to discuss issues confronting the church in that part of the world. One of the most pressing issues is the lack of clergy in the area. It is rumored that the possibility of ordaining married men may be on the agenda.   
What do I think of it? "Do not move your neighbor's boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.”  Deuteronomy 19:14 And for good measure, Deuteronomy 27:17: ”Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary mark.” Job 24:2: ”Some remove the landmarks; They seize and devour flocks.” Proverbs 15:25: “The LORD will tear down the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Proverbs 22:28 “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set”. Hosea 5:10: “The princes of Judah have become like those who move a boundary. On them I will pour out My wrath like water.”
Six separate times the Bible forbids monkeying around with boundary stones. When the Bible says something six times, I’d pay attention. Why shouldn’t you move an ancestral boundary stone? You can never get it back quite the way it was, and soon you are going to find out why it was there in the first place. I remember an old Lithuanian priest, Fr, John Plancas. When he saw them taking the confessionals out of the churches, he shook his head and said, “Soon they’ll figure out why they put them there in the first place.”  Change happens. It’s supposed to happen, but how and why it happens is very important. 

Celibacy has a long and disputed history in the church The Council of Elvira (306) is apparently the first official meeting of the church that required clergy to abstain from sexual intercourse. "Bishops, priests, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives.” This may refer to the period immediately preceding the celebration of the Eucharist as is the practice in the Eastern Church Catholics and Orthodox even for the laity. Around 390, the Council of Carthage decreed that, “It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites (deacons)…, to observe perfect continence, (as) the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed... It pleases us all that bishops, priests and deacons, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.” Note the phrase “serve at the altar.”  The implication, in light of well-known custom among eastern Christians, is that when they are serving at the altar they refrain from relations as a kind of fasting.
Saint Hilary of Poitiers (315–68), a Doctor of the Church, was a married bishop. Pope Felix III (483–92), whose father was almost certainly a priest, was the great-great-grandfather of Pope Gregory the Great (590–604). Pope Hormisdas (514–23) was the father of Pope Silverius (536–37). It is unknown whether they lived a normal conjugal life after their ordinations. The First Council of Nicaea (325) considered ordering all married clergy to refrain from conjugal relations, but the Council was dissuaded from doing so by a monk, St. Paphnutius of Thebes. (Some scholars doubt the existence of St. Paphnutius and say that clerical marriage was allowed because of pressure by Emperor Constantine the Great. The point is moot. Even when something is forbidden, it is not forbidden unless it was going on, and Paphnutius is a really cool name. You can’t make up things like that.)  It seems to make great sense that one fasted from intimacy for a stated time before the offering of the Eucharist, as is still done in eastern Catholic and eastern Orthodox communities. 

The reason that priests in the Latin west are celibate is probably because Western Christians became accustomed to daily mass following the custom of the monasteries. Both east and west, monks celebrated daily Mass and included intimacy as something from which they fasted in preparation. Non-monastic priests and laity only fasted at certain times of the year and in preparation for the Holy Eucharist. Where mass was offered every day, it makes sense that the celebrants be unmarried. It seems that in the Latin west celibacy began to be the usual custom around 400 or 500 AD. In the Greek speaking east celibacy has never really caught on except among monks and bishops. 
The rule of thumb is this: a married man may be ordained, but an ordained man may not marry. If a man is called to Holy Orders and comes with a wife, well, he comes with a wife. If he doesn’t come with a wife, be he single, or a widower, he may not marry after ordination. Married deacons in the west are ordained with this condition. If they are married, they promise not to marry a second time. That’s how it has always been. Unlike the Greek east, our custom in the west is not to ordain married men to the presbyterate except by rare exception.  Why the long history? Because I want to make the point that there is nothing innovative or heretical about ordaining married men. We do it now. We have always done it.  I know that I will get some complaints from hyper traditionalists who are so traditional that they disregard tradition, but history is history. 
HOWEVER, I’m not sure that ordaining Amazonian men is a good idea at this time or in the manner being contemplated. There are problems.
1)   Money. If you are going to have married clergy who are full time you had darn well better pay them a decent wage. If you don’t they will find interesting ways to make money. I remember hearing of the situation in a distant country where it was common for indigenous priests to have common law wives and children. The locals preferred the missionaries from America over their own clergy, because the Americans didn’t demand exorbitant fees for sacraments. “How shameful!” I hear you say Hold on. If a man has a wife and a slew of kids he must think about how he is going to feed, clothe, house and educate them.  A man’s natural concern should first be his own family. This is natural and even holy. Familial responsibilities will limit the clergy in unexpected ways. Priests don’t like to offend their bishops or their congregations but will occasionally take a bold strand when they believe it to be a matter of conscience. Had I a wife and kids to feed my conscience would be a lot more picky. I ought to take the brave stand even if it means getting kicked of the parish, but do I have the right to make my family homeless for the sake of my conscience which I may just be mistaking for my bad temper.                                                                      
2)  Danger. I have served in really bad neighborhoods most of my life. Had I a wife and children, you bet I would prefer the north suburban parish to the inner-city parish. The priest may be hero, but it is only natural and noble to want the best for one’s wife and kids.
3)  Sex. It is a very painful thing for a community when its priest falls afoul of the sixth commandment. It is really painful and a source of really enjoyable gossip when the priest’s wife or kids get caught in a compromising situation.  I just read about a Roman Catholic priest of the Anglican usage who was recently arrested. His wife had been having a fling, I believe with a member of the congregation. The priest kidnapped her, drove her all over the city hitting her, yelling at her and blaring heavy metal music. He stopped at their parish church where he made his wife kneel at the altar as he threatened to choke her. This went on for 18 hours. According to his wife, Father took nude photos of her which he threatened to send to everyone in the parish. I assume this will not happen a lot but when it does, believe, you will hear about it. Divorce and abuse will probably happen just as commonly as they happen among the general Catholic population and when there is trouble in the rectory, there will lots of kind people who will want to console the pastor, or console his long-suffering wife, and I don’t just mean by bringing them hot chocolate and cookies. Get ready.
4)  Kids. Most of the pastor’s kids I have known are great people. However, some of them spend lives in therapy because dad took better care of his parish than he did of his family. Preacher’s kids can be just great, and no one notices. It’s expected, after all. See the preacher’s kid’s name on a police blotter or on the evening news and just watch the fun.  I have been told that it is hell to be under the constant scrutiny of a congregation.  It is especially tough when you are thirteen and ticked at your parents who of course are perfect because you, poor sap, are the preacher’s kid.
5)  Lunch.  I had a fun experience a while ago. I have a good friend who married a Greek Orthodox girl. I often visit them at their home. Every time I go to some great celebration and her family is there, they look very nervous. I thought this was because I am Catholic. My friend told me that it had nothing to with Catholicism. It is just that it’s unusual for a Greek priest to go to Sunday lunch at a parishioner’s home especially without his wife. Just imagine the scene “Honey I am going to the widow Woopenwurst’s for lunch after church. I’ll be back around 5.”  Her response: “You’re what?” We in the west are used to the priest being part our lives and families. He won’t be, or least shouldn’t be when he has a wife and family of his own. My friend explained that when a priest comes by to visit, it isn’t usually a fun moment. It means someone had died, or at least soon will. We in the west are used to a certain closeness and even informality with our priests. In the east it just ain’t so. There is a wife to help make sure it ain’t so. Shall I continue? I might as well take the plunge.
I have probably insulted most people already, but now I will take on a real challenge. CLERGY WIVES!!!! I’ll save that for next week at this point it would probably good to have a wife who would wisely tell me to cool it.
Rev. Know-it-all