Tuesday, September 30, 2008
This doesn’t feel right.
At any other point of my life I would be thoroughly enjoying the shameful collapse of New York baseball. That particularly visceral loathing reserved only for the Yankees and their close cousins, the common cockroach, by now would have turned into profound satisfaction. Joba - the messiah - burning out, Hank’s constant blathering, A-Dud getting booed at the Stadium, Jeter still pretending he cares about anything... even the pathetic, boring, typically overrated ceremony that shut down the Stadium... it all should make me giddy as we enter the post season Yankee-less for the first time in 14 years.
The implosion at Shea was like a fine digestivo – a silky grappa or a pungent fernet - after sticking a fork in the Evil Empire. For the second straight season the Mets barely managed to whisk defeat from the jaws of victory and go down in a graceless heap. Being even bigger doofuses than their Bronx rivals, they celebrated the closing of the stadium after losing their last game. Now, that was one exciting send-off.
And yet, all of this is barely a blip on my radar. I may watch a few innings of the Sox-Angels series. I will probably check to see if Pedroia won MVP, just out of curiosity. I might even stay up late if it goes to a fifth game in Anaheim.
But, I confess, my heart’s not in it. I’m as likely to doze off before they call in Papelbon as I am to forget to even turn on the game.
The loss of Fr. Dave still lingering? The perpetually unresolved issues of the parishes gaining weight? The uncertainty of what the immediate future may bring? The nostalgia and yearning of autumn playing in the background?
Chi lo sa...
Where are you in life when even the sure-fire distractions fail to distract?
Sunday, September 28, 2008
You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18) are the weighty, great and solemn words that Jesus speaks to Simon, son of John, after his profession of faith. This profession of faith was not the product of the Bethsaida fisherman's human logic or the expression of any special insight of his or the effect of some psychological impulse; it was rather the mysterious and singular result of a real revelation of the Father in heaven. Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter, thus signifying the conferring of a special mission. He promises to build on him his Church, which will not be overthrown by the forces of evil or death. He grants him the keys of the kingdom of God, thus appointing him the highest official of his Church, and gives him the power to interpret authentically the law of God. In view of these privileges, or rather these superhuman tasks entrusted to Peter, Saint Augustine points out to us: "Peter was by nature simply a man, by grace a Christian, by still more abundant grace one of the Apostles and at the same time the first of the Apostles". (Pope John Paul I, September 3 1978)
Friday, September 26, 2008
We buried Fr. Dave a week ago today. Just a few family members, two other priests, a deacon and his wife and I walked through the crisp sunshine in the cemetery. All in all, he got a very dignified and honorable send off to eternity. At the wake on Thursday many people who knew or knew of this admirable and friendly priest passed through the cathedral to say a quick prayer or sit in the welcome silence and meditate with pause. The parish Mass followed the wake, for Dave’s childhood parish was also the city cathedral of St. Joseph. I was asked to preach and tried to keep it simple, from the heart.
The Archbishop celebrated the funeral Mass on Friday morning. About 80 priests concelebrated, the gospel choir of St. Michael parish sang and there were easily 400 or more people in attendance. A childhood friend and classmate in the seminary preached, recalling highlights of Dave’s journey as a priest of 53 years and their friendship. It was all very family-like, very much the heartfelt tribute to a fine and holy man who had definitely run the good race.
I was distracted, however, at one point in the funeral Mass when a verse was cited from a psalm that Fr. Maciel was fond of quoting to us: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37)
The memory and sadness of Fr. Maciel’s death that went without the recognition, the thanks and the heartfelt farewells came back to me. He received no acknowledgement from the Church he served, there was no celebration of his work or achievements, his funeral was hastily and perfunctorily carried out in the backwater of Cotija, attended only by those fortunate enough to be called in by the higher powers. The entire affair was shrouded by a furtive and clandestine fog.
Other Founders of our time (J.M.Escribá!, Mother Theresa!, Chiara Lubic!) were celebrated by their Church and the obvious affection of the many people whose lives they touched. Fr. Maciel himself never imagined the final chapter of his life being written in such ignominious shorthand. There was to be a crypt in Rome, a pilgrimage of LC and RC members, unabashed signs of gratitude and admiration...
It has been a hard pill for us to swallow. It was an event we should have been allowed to experience as a congregation and a movement and it was callously taken off the agenda at the last minute. And the leadership of the LC has opted to leave each of us with our own doubts, questions and frustrations as it has all gone down.
When Fr. JME died – has it been three years already? – I could not attend the funeral, much to my deep regret. He was a friend and a mentor, a sage and a humble brother. He was kind to a fault, had a razor sharp wit and could be piercingly critical. I quote him frequently to this day. He was an LC that gave hope to many other LCs and RCs because he would go beyond the packaged advice and tired clichés that, unfortunately, often pass for spiritual direction in our system and he would speak from the heart, with real compassion for others, with depth and thoughtfulness...
Anyway, I missed the funeral because in Chile there is no practice of embalming, no routine of funeral homes that give family and friends a few days to arrive. Folks are normally buried within 24 hours of their passing. That’s no one’s fault. I simply couldn’t get there on time.
In retrospect, it was probably better for me that I be absent. There was no sincere tribute paid him at his funeral and again the LC was incapable of truly celebrating the life and legacy of one of its great men. The local superior at the time - a self-absorbed, politically astute homunculus who had little use or admiration for Fr. JME in his lifetime – was hopelessly off the mark when he delivered a generic homily that only served to reconfirm his blatant detachment from all that is real or important to the rank-and-file of the LC and RC. It was the same homily that he rattled off at two other funerals of deceased LCs.
And they think we don’t notice.
Fr. Dave’s passing has left that same void that Fr. Maciel and Fr. JME left with their departures. I walk around in a haze for a few weeks, go through the motions and wait for the internal elements to straighten themselves out again.
But this time at least, I felt that the good-byes were well said, heartfelt and worthy of the life they celebrated.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Saturday, September 06, 2008
The DVD summarizes the basic content covered in more detail in Berry’s book by the same name. There are small historical imprecisions that neither help nor hurt the central thesis of the author. A generous portion of the footage is taken from the LC promotional videos of the ‘90s. There is no novelty, no surprise in the documentary-like program for anyone familiar with the controversy that ensued between Fr. Maciel and his ex-LC accusers some years ago after reporting by the Hartford Courant and lasted up to the Vatican’s statement on the case and the Founder’s death.
The program’s insistence that Fr. Maciel was somehow inspired by the likes of Adolph Hitler, Francisco Franco or Augusto Pinochet to found the LC is misguided at best. The images of goose-stepping foot soldiers and flat-handed, straight-armed salutes mixed with uniformed LCs from the 50s and 60s probably made for some excitement in the editing room, but have little to do with the reality of the LC. It is this type of overkill that raises credibility issues in the minds of even the more critically inclined among us.
But the fundamental and lasting complaint to be lodged with the fairness police about this film is also the oldest and the least politically correct.
Why should I believe Fr. Maciel’s accusers in the first place?
Why give instant and unquestioned credibility to persons whose stories might just merit a more critical look? Case in point, there’s a new face among the accusers that appears toward the end of the program. A young man, ex-LC priest, recounts that Fr. Maciel squeezed his arm and told him how strong he was while they were driving in a car with other passengers from Germany to Belgium back in the ‘90s.
That’s it. Fr. Maciel squeezed his arm.
This guy tearfully tells how later, as a midlevel Vatican official, he read the Courant articles on the web and – recalling the arm squeeze – suddenly realized that it was all horribly, scandalously true. The Founder he had once revered and respected was actually a monster in disguise.
Is it so coldly insensitive to those who have cloaked themselves in the mantle of victimhood to ask if that’s all there is to the story? Who is this guy that a squeeze on the arm, a pat on the back, a fist bump or a high-five reveals to him the hidden immorality of his religious superior? Are we to assume, as the program insinuates, that this accuser abandoned his job in the Vatican, his vocation to the LC and his priesthood because of what he read in the Hartford Courant? Is that really it? Might there not be some factor - other than an arm squeeze and a newspaper article - that induces this young man to reflect on his LC past with hindsight tinged by bitterness or disdain or shame or sadness or whatever?
I’ve said it before. When faced with the choice between my own experience of nearly thirty years in close contact with the Founder and the testimony of others, blurred by unanswered questions... I can only honestly be expected to hold on to what I know to be true. Jason Berry’s film has simply reinforced that conviction.
Friday, September 05, 2008
I wonder if the antics of the living mortify the dead.
The dead are commonly well behaved. They wait patiently for the wake to begin. They silently bear the excesses of their loved ones. They seldom disrupt the exequial Mass celebrated on their behalf. They proceed relaxed and composed (as opposed to decomposed) to the burial site. And they surrender themselves discreetly to the finality of it all as they are lowered into their ultimate resting place.
The living are another can of worms altogether.
I have seen first hand:
- friends and family snapping photos on their cell phones as the deceased lies in state
- other family members squeezing in cheek-to-cadaverous-cheek to be in the photo with the deceased
- the photo of the deceased emblazoned on T-shirts that are worn the following day at the funeral Mass
- one friend hold the hand of the deceased out of the casket to allow the other friends walk by and reverently fist bump their dead homey
- mothers, grandmothers, wives and girl friends (recognized and suddenly revealed) throw themselves on the open casket and attempt to wrest the defunct object of their affection from a prone position, as if forcing him back to the land of the living
- sons and nephews pour cans of Tecate on papi’s casket as it is being lowered into the ground
- a live pet schnauzer resting on his ex-master’s legs as the mourners file by
- abuela being covered in sea shells before her coffin is closed because she always loved the beach
- junior clothed in pinstripes, fitted with a cap, adorned with a first baseman’s glove and wrapped in a Yankees blanket as he lays motionless
- a squirrel running into a wake in progress and scampering up onto the open casket of the departed
- el tío laid to rest in a fiberglass coffin fashioned into a pink Dodge pick-up
- friends dancing cumbia around the gravesite as mami waits to be inhumed
- fainting, screaming, vomiting, thrashing, laughing, cursing, crying and clapping... all by the living
But this takes the cake:
The indignity of death is only surpassed by the insanity of the living.