Friday, March 16, 2012

Letter to Helena Hahn Basquette - part 3

Are you still reading this? I just called you a monster! Perhaps I was harsh.  I realize there were and are people who agonized over these things. There were then and are now marriages that are in difficulty. There were and are those with serious medical issues. I had one sister who couldn’t conceive and another sister who couldn’t keep from conceiving. We discussed these things at length over dinner in my home back in the early sixties. If you struggled to obey, if you agonized over your  decisions, God keep me from condemning you.  It’s not you that I blame. The real monsters are those who made or make the decision glibly thinking only of the inconvenience or expense of large families. The monsters are those who sacrifice children to Moloch and Baal, the Canaanite gods of prosperity.

In the current age it is simply assumed that one will be sexually active before marriage and will practice artificial birth control. It is routine when a doctor interviews a young woman, married or unmarried, he asks “What kind of birth control are you using?” (It is interesting to note that a doctor never seems to ask a young man the same question. Another victory for feminism, no?) Extra marital sex is the assumption and small families are the expectation. Chastity, marital fidelity and large families seem  odd, or even irresponsible now.   

The monsters are those of us who, for love of ease and money have grown callous to the beauty and sacredness of human sexuality and its relationship to the family. Further, we, the clergy are the ones to blame for the monstrosity. We failed to teach the Catholic Faith. We encouraged you to pick and choose those teachings that were most useful and least challenging.    
“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) 
We, the scoffers of the 60' and 70's will soon have to face God and I tremble because of all the people I misled. Thinking it was kindness, I failed to say the hard things. Now as my life hurries to its final chapters, I realize that I deprived people of the truth, I deprived them of real love by trying to be polite. If there is a lion about to devour you, is it kindness on my part not to point it out? If I fail to warn you of danger simply because I don’t want to upset you, or to anger you, is this love?

We clergy in the years after the Council taught a diluted faith that made few demands. Fasting was no longer important. Marital fidelity was a high ideal, but not really practical. Mass was optional. Frequent Confession was tedious and an invasion of privacy. Father would make up the Mass as he went along, and use bread baked by the liturgy committee that was tastier than a dry communion wafer. He used wine that had a bit more zing, like a good port. We had general absolutions at Christmas and Easter. Everybody should go to communion, because we were now all sinless. God understands our weakness. 

What  we did mattered not so much as what we felt. It was our good intentions that mattered. If we had made a “fundamental option” for God, then the rest was unimportant, after all St. Augustine said “Love God and do what you will.” We taught you to pick and choose among the treasures of the faith. 

Now I see people my own age who, when they talk about their children, get a far away look in their eyes. “Yes, my daughter lives in California. That’s where her career took her. She was married, but got divorced and the grand kids spend their time going between Nevada where their father lives and then back to California. We see them on some holidays when it’s mom’s turn to have them, but it’s all right... they seem OK. They were baptized, but I don’t think they go to church much. I’m not sure..... My son lives in California too. He never married and I hear from him fairly regularly.... He’s always going on trips with his friends. He’s taken some wonderful vacations, and sends us photos, but he doesn’t come back to the Midwest much...” 

I have this conversation all the time, or ones like it. It breaks my heart. I want to run away and weep, not because you have sinned, but because I have. I taught a kind of Christianity that inspired no one because it demanded nothing. All truths were the same. All religions were as good, one as one another. The old man in the Vatican couldn’t tell me or you how to run our lives.

I remember now with great shame going to dinner with some fellow seminarians on Ash Wednesday. We of course ordered meat, just a sign of “Christian Liberty.” It was purely an act of defiance. If it is true that love is sacrifice, then I taught narcissism as if it were love, just as I had been taught by a seminary of priests who left the priesthood. I remember a dramatic reading of the Song of Songs that was the grand finale of one my theology school classes. It was read antiphonally by a priest professor and a friend of his, a nun. They did it with great feeling looking longingly at one another and reciting in hushed breathy tones. A month or two later they ran off together. Haven’t heard of either of them since. So now our churches are empty, our nests are empty and our hearts are empty. God forgive me. And, as God is my witness, I cannot do it any longer. Perhaps there is still time.

I recently got a letter pointing out that “ ...your rhetoric appears to be heading towards absolute dogmatic adherence without the necessary nuances... Empathy, Forgiveness, Charity, Reconciliation are the words I would like to hear at Mass more often and less archaic rituals."

Maybe the writer was correct.  Please understand that there is no one unloved by God, and that all one must do to receive forgiveness is to admit sin. If we can really admit that we “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Romans3:23), then we are on the path to heaven. But to say that my sin is not sin is the surest road to hell. 

We, the clergy helped you along that road to hell by assuring you that your sin was not sin! How often have you gone into a confessional and heard the priest say, “Oh, that’s not really a sin.” You knew it was a sin. It was eating you up inside, but father told you it was okay. Do you think you will be punished nearly as harshly as I will be? I tremble to think of the wrath that awaits me! 

I remember hearing of a man who repented all his life of a childhood prank. Everyone said it was nothing. He knew it was something. As a boy, he and his friends had turned a sign on a country road so that it pointed in the wrong direction. It was all great fun. He wondered all his life how many people he had misled who never found their destination because of something he thought good fun. It haunted him on his very deathbed.  So many of us clergy turned the signs that led to heaven and replaced them with the sign that led to hell. God be merciful to us. 

The few heroes who held out for the faith were mocked and hounded into silence or obscurity. I remember going to a lecture by an old priest who questioned some of the liturgical changes. I was invited by some of the older seminarians to come along and heckle. It was all great fun. We who wanted to get along and go along, and preached the new and more pleasant Gospel. 

I believe with all my heart that God is giving us, the clergy, another opportunity to accept the teaching of the Church and to obey the pope regarding Humanae Vitae and the sacred liturgy of the Mass. What will happen if we once again refuse to obey? Haven’t the moral scandals of the past forty years been enough? What will happen if we priests once again refuse Him? I, for one, will obey this time and hope that God will have mercy on me in my old age.

Again, I know this sounds very harsh. That it sounds harsh is not the matter. More importantly, is it true?  There are people who cannot have children but long to or are able only to have a small family. I am not speaking about them. I am speaking about those who refuse the gift that God would give, and even more I am speaking about myself and the others who taught a shallow materialism. 

Once, the woman who could not bear children received sympathy. Now, the woman who has a large family is pitied and often looked down on. Have we forgotten what the Lord said on His way to Calvary?   
For the time will come when you will say, '"blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!'"hen they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23: 29-31) 
We are the generation of the green wood. The dry wood is surely on its way.

(You guessed it! To be continued.....)


  1. My dear brother in Christ,
    You have me in tears with the devotion and pain of heart with which you speak. I am a protestant who has ached to hear a man such as yourself speak the truth boldly but with humility and love. I have longed to be that man but more often I retreat from that lonely road to hide in the weeds.
    God bless you my brother. You encourage me and I would be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the coming persecution.