Thursday, July 24, 2014

A reflection on priestly life -- part 5

Letter to Ann T. Clerikuhl continued:
And now I write about the glorious triumph of light over dark, progress over regress and the wisdom of youth over the stupidity of old age.  These things come from my own memory and many of them I cannot footnote, but I was there. I endured it all. The great astrologers are not in agreement as to the precise date of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. 
Aquarius, the Water-Bearer, is one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, a system by which astrologers use imaginary designations of imaginary relationships among stars to determine which horse to bet on and the best chances of being lucky in love and money. It is of course a rigorously scientific system, at least as precise as the near-infallible fortune cookie. There are different eras associated with each sign and the epoch in which the imaginary constellation Aquarius is dominant will be a time of democracy, humanitarianism, idealism, freedom and social advancement. The eminent astrologers with their rigorous scientific method may not know precisely when the Age of Aquarius dawned, but my generation, the forever young generation now colliding with geriatric medicine, we knew when it started. 
It definitely started on or before April 29, 1968, the glorious day that Hair, the rock opera opened on Broadway.  Hippies everywhere ripped off their clothes and “Let the Sun Shine In” as the rock opera urged us to do.  Now, after all that sun shining in, we have skin cancers in odd places.  
We in the Church had been preparing for this glorious revelation-revolution for years. We had started to chuck outmoded Dark Age things like polyphony, Gregorian chant, Michelangelo, Bernini and all that pompous primitive art in favor of burlap banners and collages made by Sister Corita Kent. We dumped Aquinas and St. Teresa of Avila for Matty Fox’s On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear and that classic of Catholic Spirituality, The Velveteen Rabbit.  (Again, I am not making any of this up, not a single word.)  The clergy of Chicago were in the vanguard of this new openness to the profound insight of the late twentieth century. We had been thoroughly schooled in the thought of Saul Alinsky, the great community organizer who dedicated his 1971 classic “Rules for Radicals” with the following words.
 “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”  
(This too, I am not making up. Saul Alinsky was very popular in my seminary training and even more popular in the years just preceding my time there. I have heard that he was in fact a guest lecturer, but I am having a hard time pinning this down. I would appreciate either confirmation of correction. Certainly Saul was meeting with groups of seminarians as early as the 1960’s).
The disciples of Saul Alinsky knew that they would never truly radicalize the church in Chicago until they could get rid of the old irremovable pastors from the “plum” parishes of the archdiocese.  It was the old pastors in the big parishes that were keeping the Church in the Dark Ages. They still preferred Gregorian chant to Kumbaya and kneeling for communion to hand-holding at the Our Father. So, on a glorious day, I believe in 1972, during a meeting of, I believe it was the presbyteral council of the archdiocese, the young lights of the archdiocese petitioned Cardinal Cody to ask the Vatican for an indult, that is an exemption from a requirement of canon law.  They wanted to limit the terms of a pastor to six years renewable for a second term of six years. All pastors would be automatically removed, removable or not. It is said, that in a voice of great solicitude, his Eminence responded, “Well, my sons, if that is what you want I will ask the Holy Father.”
Cardinal Cody left the hall suppressing a broad grin. The young lights thought they were opening up the church to the new winds of progress and goodness. Cardinal Cody knew that they had just removed any local oversight of the episcopacy.
You see, in the bad old dark ages a pastor could only be removed for cause, and that meant principally immorality or insanity.  They could not be removed for not raising enough money. The old pastors knew that they could refuse to raise the money that a bishop wanted for the running of the diocese. If the bishop wanted things to run smoothly he had to know his priests and to convince them of the wisdom of his initiatives. The young lights threw away the only real practical control over a diocesan bishop and Cardinal Cody knew it. The old pastors may have been weird, old coots, but they were by in large a good bunch of guys who loved the Lord and the Church, and most of them actually loved the people with whom they had spent twenty or thirty years, and remarkably their people loved them, chicken feet and bags of nickels and all.
The Church was a family, and its home was the parish. When the young progressives gave Cardinal Cody permission to ask the pope to change an ancient rule, they changed the parish church from a family to a bureaucracy — a sort of company franchise. Chicago was the leading light of those post-conciliar years and as Chicago went the US and the English speaking world went. It is now pretty much universal for priests to have mandatory retirement at 70, unless the bishop decides otherwise.
That meeting in 1972 of the Chicago presbyteral council destroyed a reasonable system of checks and balances that had been a thousand years in the making. That was the day priests stopped being fathers. They became CEO’s and vendors of religious services with very limited rights to run the local branch office.  
In the dark ages before 1972, a priest expected to leave his rectory feet first. He expected to die among the people he had loved and served all those years. Now a diocesan priest must turn in his resignation at the age of 70. They throw a swell party and send him off to die alone. He hasn’t enough money for a house in Boca anymore. He will be lucky to get single room occupancy in a bad neighborhood if he has not planned ahead.  At the very age when a man needs people around him who know him and love him, a diocesan priest is expected to find a new place to hang his hat for as many years as he has left, and the pension, at least in my diocese, with which he is expected to enjoy his golden years is the whopping sum of $1,200 dollars a month. 
The old monsignor who was my first seminary rector was given a couple rooms in the school basement of a west side parish. I think it was there that he died. He was a good priest who hadn’t worried about money and so a few rooms in a basement is where his life and years of service ended.
A diocesan priest is expected at the present time to move every 6 to 12 years. It used to be that he saw the children he baptized, grow up and marry, or enter religious life. He buried their dead and was part of the fabric of their lives. Chances were that he knew their names and really cared about their well being. Now we are paid to love you for a maximum of 12 years and then we move on. Hardly worth getting to know everyone’s name. There are other professions that love as long as they are paid to do it. 
The progressive lights of the Age of Aquarius did more harm than they can imagine. They made the church a colder, more anonymous place when all the while they thought they were initiating a giant worldwide love-in. The churches in the bad old days were packed.  Now they are empty. If you want to volunteer to serve coffee at the parish social, you need government clearance, finger printing and background checks. Having been cleared by the government, you then need to take theology classes about the ministering of coffee pouring and be a certified diocesan coffee pourer.
So, what has all my whining to do with anything? My point is this: Hollywood, the world and the bureaucrats of religion have not realized that the parish of a thousand years is gone. They keep pretending that there is a large mass of loyal Catholic people out there who will pay, pray and obey. I am in the process of burying the last gray hairs of that generous generation. Their grandchildren don’t even know how to say an Our Father, and their grandchildren aren’t going to throw in for that second collection or sign up for the pledge drive. Their children don’t go to church. It isn’t their home. 
Next week: More whining and perhaps some creative suggestions.

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