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