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Sunday, July 23, 2006
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MY BROTHER THE PRIEST? My brother has been in touch with a middle aged guy who was recently ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. He knew this guy back in his youth, when they were both altar boys at the local parish. Despite being quite a lady’s man in his early adulthood, my brother has long pondered whether he might be called to the priesthood himself. Over the past 6 years he’s devoted a whole lot of time and energy to taking care of my mother, and has been singularly unimpressed by the unwillingness of women he has dated during this time to support him (and not expect too much from him given my mother’s need). I guess he just hasn’t met the right one. And if he doesn’t meet her soon, he might well start talking with the monsignors and assistant bishops who oversee the “priestly formation” process in the local Archdiocese.

I think he could make a good priest, if he falls into the right situation (but given the state of the Catholic Church these days, that’s a dicey proposition). He has a relatively simple and robust faith in God and in the basic myths of Roman Christianity. He’d like to see the Church pull out of it’s 40 year drift toward conservatism following that bright, brief moment in the early 1960’s defined by Bishop Roncelli (Pope John the 23rd) and the Vatican Council. My brother likes people and can charm them. He would be a good youth minister, as he’s still in good shape and has a flair for grooming that would get the attention of high schoolers and college kids (who generally accept substance only if it is presented with style). He would have to watch the alcohol temptation that brings down so many good clerics during their times of doubt and stress. However, most neurotic priests and nuns drink alone, while my brother wants a group around him when he gets smashed. If he could just find the right company and comradeship, he might not need to have another drink in the morning, as the true alcoholics do.

I’m taking a “wait and see” attitude about his current aspirations. It’s not a great time to be a progressive minister in the Big Roman Church. In electing Cardinal Ratzinger as the successor to John Paul 2, the cardinals of the world seemed to sense the need for the Church to “round up the wagons”. They smell something in the winds, something of a danger to the world; i.e. that science, political freedom, economic liberalism and the spirit of the Enlightenment is failing. Despite the great wealth and incredible progress experienced in the west over the past 200 years, they seem dubious as to whether this trend can be replicated in the three-fifths of the world still shackled in poverty. Sure, India and China are making progress; look at the miracles in Japan and Korea. Still, so many other places are going nowhere, even backwards; and in those places, another conservative religion, Islam, is growing rapidly. The Roman Church, admittedly, has a long institutional memory. Its leadership maintains an awareness of the fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages that followed. They know that history repeats itself.

After Benedict VI, the Seat of Peter may well go to a brown-skinned man from the underdeveloped world. But that will not bode well for those like my brother who want to see the Church focus once again on modern concerns like personal fulfillment. The Church may well continue its militarization trend. Forget about “finding God on your own path” and “accommodating individuality”; it will be “onward Christian soldiers” instead. The world is growing cold, the lights are going out, and we will all have to fall in line and listen to our leaders if the human race is going to get thru this. Sorry if that doesn’t sound too nice, but if you don’t want to listen to the Bishop of Rome, you’re going to have to listen to someone else; and the alternatives, you will find, will be so much worse.

If you’ve read my blog or my website, you might know my sentiments about religion. I’ve gone beyond liberal re-interpretation. I’d like to see the organized religions put it all on the table, every myth and doctrine, so as to challenge their relevance in an age of science and rationality. That certainly doesn’t mean that God’s existence would not be proclaimed; science clearly cannot prove that God does NOT exist, despite the doubts of many of its luminaries. However, we CAN say with a fair amount of certainty just where the Bible came from, what Jesus was about, how Mohammed’s writings evolved, what the Buddha assumed, and how the convoluted myths of Hinduism emerged over the centuries. I’d like to think that we can find ways of belief and spiritual fulfillment, complete with positive morals and ethics, which are fully consistent with the strange and beautiful revelations that modern science and critical thinking have brought forth. To me, THAT is the challenge for religion in the 21st Century.

But then again. In a recent blog, I said that the civilized world as we know it may be in big trouble over the next 100 years. We may be in a situation not that much different from what Rome encountered around 350 AD. Our civilization has had a few really great centuries when we accomplished all sorts of amazing things. Despite our mixed motivations, we developed all sorts of wonderful things for humankind, things like democracy, human rights, economic opportunity, art, modern medicine, science and critical thought. But despite all these good things, the rest of the world eventually came to resent us more than admire us. Instead of seeking to imitate us, they more and more wish to humiliate and plunder us. And when we look within, we see that maybe we deserve it. We talked a lot about virtue, but in the end we couldn’t find meaningful ways to share our accumulations of great wealth, not even with those in need within our own borders. We’ve taken our “cruel to be kind” economic doctrine just a bit too far, and now those on the other end of that equation are ready to reverse it on us by force.

If that is the way that our world is going, then I can understand why perhaps the cardinals are right. The Church got the western world thru the Dark Ages, and may be needed to do it again. An age of science and enlightenment and individuality may again give way to an age of pandemic and militarism and crude survival. If it came down to a choice of following a Roman Catholic dictator, a secular political dictator, or a trans-national corporation dictator in the midst of a Great World Depression, I’d certainly choose the Catholic one, on a “least of evils” basis.

I wish my brother the best if he does enter the seminary, and I know that he will do the Church much good. He may not formally join the Franciscans, but he certainly has a Franciscan spirit within him. Let’s hope that the Church can preserve something of that spirit if the winds of change for civilization are indeed starting to blow cold.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:24 am      

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