Thursday, July 09, 2009

Leave the bathwater. Take the cannoli.

An old friend popped in unexpectedly today. I dropped what I was doing and we went to lunch at a deli in the section of town they used to call ‘Little Italy’. Everyone says the city is not what it used to be, but you can still get good cannoli and sfogliatelle on Franklin Ave. if you know where to look.

We have mutual ties to the LC and this guy recently visited one of our large houses of formation in Europe. He asked the superior – also an old friend – how he was holding up, given all the pressure and uncertainty.

I held up my hand and said, “Wait, let me guess. He replied: Mucha paz y tranquilidad, gracias a Dios. Aquí y en toda la Legión se respira un gran aire de familia.“

My buddy smiled and shrugged. “Almost verbatim. How did you know?”

“Just a hunch.” I said as the waitress came with our drinks and sandwiches.


He asked me if I thought it possible to save the writings of Fr. Maciel. Many of them, he said, contain instruction and reflections that are, in and of themselves, good and useful. Many are simply his expression of elements of spirituality and religious life common to the universal Church. Why not keep what is good in his writings even if we must disown and distance ourselves from his person?

Why throw out the baby with the bathwater?

I answered with two analogies.

Adolph Hitler was a painter. Paintings of his have survived and even been auctioned off to collectors and historians in recent times. He painted landscapes. He painted the Blessed Virgin with the Christ Child. He fancied himself quite the accomplished artist.

Hitler is not remembered for his art. He is forever engraved upon the collective memory of humankind as arguably the least human, most deranged and criminal mass murderer of modern times. That is who he was.

To say, ‘let’s forget who he was and hang his paintings in the rectory’ would be disingenuous, offensive and repugnant to even the most lenient of critics.

One cannot separate the art from the artist. BECAUSE OF WHO HE WAS, Hitler’s Madonna and Child becomes a particularly blasphemous mockery of the Virgin, Christ and all the sacred artwork that has tried to represent the Holy Mother and her Son throughout time.

Analogy number two: in the Gospel narration of the temptations of Jesus, Satan quotes Sacred Scripture in the hopes of inducing the Savior to sin.

By itself, Scripture is a holy and valuable guide. On the lips of the Adversary it becomes a singularly vile and devious hex, a sacrilegious manipulation that reeks of evil and desperation.

Fr. Maciel was neither Satan nor Hitler and analogies take us only so far.

But while Fr. Maciel masqueraded as the saintly founder, the admirable priest, apostle and ‘suffering servant of Yahweh’ that all the LCs sought to emulate in their own vocation, his writings were veritable treasures that we meditated and quoted, memorized and preached.

Once we found out who he truly was, those same writings have turned into the cruelest of jokes, a most unholy parody of true spirituality and religious tradition, a sacrilegious satire that should make us all ashamed of having once proudly called ourselves ‘co-founders’.

The bathwater dissolved whatever baby there was long, long ago.
So throw it out with no regrets.