Friday, January 24, 2014

Of butterflies and monsters -- part 1

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
Our new pope seems to have an interesting way with words. Just the other day he said the “heart is a flea market of desires.” I suppose I know what this means, but I am more concerned by his referring to the clergy as butterfly priests and little monsters. Can you shed some light on what he means?
Ms. Ann Salting

Dear Ann,
Of course I can shed some light on the issue — or at least lay down a good smoke screen.  Personally, I think the papal candidness is an absolute hoot.  I have known a few crabby old Jesuits, and personally, I find them refreshing. Remember that, at least in my ancestry, I am a German. We have always esteemed crabbiness.
People say that the former pope was German, but we true Germans did not consider him a German. He is a Bavarian, and Bavarians are far too nice. I have known a few people who know him. They say that he is actually kind to a fault, despite what the air-heads of the press would have us believe. He really listens to you and makes you feel important.
The new pope has a more obvious form of the common touch. In his heart, he is just a parish priest. He is always taking pictures with people. I know four people who have posed with him for snapshots since his election as pope. You would be amazed at how much of a parish priest’s life is taken up by smiling for photos. He is a parish priest, and being one myself I know what wacky pieces of work we can be. We sometimes say the darndest things. And then wish that we hadn’t. Let me dig up the exact quotes.
Pope Francis seems to have said that poor formation in seminaries will create priests who are “little monsters.” He went on to say, "To avoid problems, in some houses of formation, young people grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told: 'Good, you have finished formation.' This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism which is one of the worst evils.” 
He said on another recent occasion “...What is the place of Jesus Christ in my priestly life? Is it a living relationship, from the disciple to the Master, or is it a somewhat artificial relationship... that does not come from the heart?....We are anointed by the Spirit, and when a priest is far from Jesus Christ he can lose this unction.... Those who put their strength in artificial things, in vanity, in an attitude... in a cutesy language... ‘This is a butterfly-priest,’ because they are always vain.”
Wow! He doesn’t mince words. And I think he is absolutely correct in his assessment. As you know, not many people call me a liberal. I am somewhere to the right of Torquemada on some theological and liturgical issues. My fellow reactionary curmudgeons always think the pope is aiming at them. I’m not so sure. I have met smarmy, little-monster, butterfly priests on both sides of the imagined liberal/conservative divide. I am delighted to see a young priest in a cassock. I get nervous, however when that cassock has no bulges at the knees indicating that its wearer never prays, and it has no wear at the wrists indicating that he never does much hard work. I believe that all young priests should be familiar with the Tridentine Mass. For a priest to hand down the tradition, he has to know the tradition. However, when a priest who doesn’t know a word of Latin thinks it impressive to throw some Latin into the liturgy, I am tempted to wonder, does he realize that he is supposed to be praying at Mass? If someone loves the old Mass because it is a vehicle of the mystical spirituality that is a huge part of the Tradition, I couldn’t be happier. If it is simply a delight in smells and bells and funny hats, with glitter and brocade on the side, best to let it go. To love beauty in the service of the Lord is noble. To love kitsch in the service of narcissism is, well, monstrous. I can hear all eight of the traditional uber-Catholics who read this stuff beginning to grumble. Don’t worry I am now going to lambaste the ecclesial left.
I am equally amused by the young progressives, most of whom are in their late sixties who go about wearing sandals and serapes and burlap vestments in order to express their solidarity with the poor. The poor are tired of wearing serapes and sandals. That’s why they are up here working three jobs at once. They would like to wear Brooks Brothers some day. I had to endure the Viva la Raza crowd for years in my seminary days and early priesthood. These were the priests and seminarians who had seen the movie, The Magnificent Seven one too many times. (Magnificent Seven is a movie in which a bunch of gun-toting American cowboys save a Mexican village from a blood-thirsty group of banditos. Personally I am hoping that Mexican villagers will save us Americans from our own materialism. It’s not looking good. A lot of the Mexicans turn into materialists after a few years north of the Rio Grande. Still, I have hope. At least the Mexicans still love their children more than they love their poodles.) 
As far as I am concerned a priest who cannot be devoted to the Lord, the Lowly, the Liturgy and Our Lady is, as the pope says, liable to become a little monster who demands that the faithful do and think what Father tells them to think. Believe me, the serape wearing, Viva la Raza crowd has a lot of very strict rules. I am sure you have heard that old saying, which I myself made up, “There is no one so conservative as a liberal.” Well, someone has to make up old sayings at some point, and I did make it up a few years ago. In my youth I endured the tyranny of liberalism.
There were seminarians who were tossed for being too pious. I am not making this up. If a young man went to daily Mass in the eighties and said the rosary, he was suspect. You toed the line if you wanted to be a priest. It was not much better after ordination. I remember being at a meeting of the Hispanic Priests Fellowship of the Diocese of Frostbite Falls sometime during the seventies. These were priests who were devoted to wearing serapes and living in solidarity with their poor Hispanic rectory housekeepers and janitors. The level of group think was amazing. I looked around at those in attendance at the meeting and realized that there was not one person of the twenty or so in the room who actually spoke Spanish as a first language or who even had a single Hispanic chromosome in their bodies. I said, in humor, so I thought, “Perhaps we should call ourselves the Irish Priest Fellowship.”  Chairman Ron Deadly, president, guru and bellwether of the group turned pale and said, “No, Never, Not Ever. No, No, No!!!”  Here we see a striking trait that the extreme left has in common with the extreme right — they are humor impaired. We of course boycotted grapes. These were the days of Cesar Chavez and the migrant worker strikes. To admit to being a serial killer in this group was less offensive than to be caught with grape jelly on your breath, depending of course on whom were serial killing. (For those who are humor impaired I am kidding here, but it would have been quite a faux pas to have served grapes at one of their lunches.)
There was no room with this bunch for novenas and rosaries and processions etc. Those were archaic, monarchical, superstitious, medieval, oppressive, manifestations of a bourgeois spirituality that existed only to oppress THE  PEOPLE.  Remember that St. Karl of Marx had warned us against religion, the opiate of the people. It didn’t matter a fig that THE PEOPLE loved novenas and rosaries and processions and all that other old stuff. We had to bring them out of their medieval darkness. Some of us would condescend to allow these devotions if they were suitably folkloric and accompanied by scantily clad Aztec dancers whirling about dressed in feathers while carrying bean pots that belched incense that smelled vaguely like burning cat fur. I promised myself that the first time someone whipped out a basalt sacrificial knife for cutting out human hearts in honor of Our Lady Guadalupe, I was out of there.
I personally believe that churches should be beautiful and vestments should be glorious, and the music should be majestic because the church is the one place where the poor man can sit next to the millionaire. The grandeur is for the Lord and for the poor. The rich have palaces enough, but a Catholic church should be a palace for the poor and for their carpenter-king. The serape and sandals crowd stripped the churches down to the bare bones and removed the beautiful statues and art. They thought that the poverty of the churches would make the poor feel at home. The poor have enough ugly. We took away the beauty of the liturgy that nurtured and uplifted them. They abandoned the Catholic churches that they found cold and sterile and joined evangelical and Pentecostal churches that allowed a more emotional expression of faith. What we did back then was indeed monstrous.
However, the smells and bells crowd is no more or less monstrous than the serape and sandals crowd. Both look at the liturgy as a wonderful venue for their own brand of performance art. The pope warns against hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is an ancient Greek word the means play acting. A hypocrite is an actor. Nothing more. Of course an actor needs a good costume.  Sandals and serape will do just as well as glitter and brocade. If you wear the serape or the brocade chasuble because you love Jesus and His Bride, the Church, all well and good. If you are doing it to make a statement, or just because you think you look good in a serape or a fiddle-back, brocaded chasuble maybe it’s time to go on a forty-day silent Jesuit retreat.

Next week: Caterpillar Priests and Butterfly Bishops

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