Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where Are We Without Original Sin?

My friend Andy Hamilton just published a really great piece in Eureka Street, the online magazine of the Australian Jesuits, about notions of original sin and the abuse crisis.  The original piece, and so much other great stuff, can be found here.  But I've also pasted it below.

If you're skeptical about reading ANOTHER article about sexual abuse, or original sin for that matter, try to give it a shot anyway.  Andy's got a unique and interesting take on the problem that our societies face in light of not only the sexual abuse crisis but other social ills as a result of our current images (or lack thereof) of sin.  I really cannot recommend it highly enough.

Original sin and clergy sex abuse


Original sin - bitten appleBeing a Catholic priest during public enquiries into sexual abuse within the Church is a bracing experience. Infinitely less hurtful than being the victim of abuse, of course. But it prompts musing about the ways in which evil actions work out in a group and affect the individual members of the group and its perception by others.
In many cultures these questions run so deep they can be caught only through symbol. In Greek myths and tragedies they are explored through what happens in a family, or house, in which monstrous deeds are fated. They taint the house and work their way destructively through later generations. In the stories connected with Oedipus, for example, the consequences are fated and individuals are passive before them. Their best efforts to escape only create the circumstances of the doom that awaits them and those associated with them.
The proper response to such events when embodied in drama is one of terror and pity. This is how we would respond to a natural disaster when allowed to enter the human experience of those caught in it.
The Christian teaching about original sin can helpfully be seen through the lens of this myth. It understands the whole of humanity to be affected by a taint which goes back to Adam's sin. Its consequences are death. The curse that in the Greek tragedies affected particular families or groups is now universal.
This view of the world also appears to be quite pessimistic in assuming that the disastrous human condition cannot be remedied by human activity. Indeed it is more pessimistic than the earlier myths, because the doom does not attach only to particular groups but to the whole human race. All human beings and the groups to which they belong are equally flawed. 
But in its Christian context the universality of original sin is a cause for optimism because we are healed from it by Christ. Neither individuals nor groups are doomed by fate. We are never helpless victims or collaborators of groups tainted by the evil that has been done by them. The evil that's been done can be repented of, apologised for, its causes addressed and reconciliation sought by attending justly and compassionately to its victims.
Within the Christian framework those watching this drama can respond with outrage at what has been done, encouragement for what is being done to address it, and analysis of what needs to be done. They are not passive spectators. But neither can they separate themselves from the group. They are aware of their own shared flaw and their shared good fortune at being rescued from original sin.
As a Christian understanding of the human condition this account has its limitations. And in any case it no longer has a strong claim on the public imagination. What has replaced it in public attitudes to the ways in which wrongdoing and guilt affect groups is also unhelpful in many ways.
When the canopy of universal sin and forgiveness is taken down, wrongdoing is commonly seen as marking a person for life. The proper response is harsh punishment and subsequent ostracism. Similarly, groups in which wrongdoing has occurred, like the Catholic Church, are seen to be corrupt. Apologies are not heartfelt; tears shed for the victims of abuse are crocodile tears;  steps to ensure accountability of ministers or the protection of children are window dressing. Those associated with the Church are automatically and lastingly suspect. They can wash away their taint only by renouncing their membership.
At one level attitudes like this do not matter. Indeed at a personal level they can be salutary. In Christian tradition to be regarded as rubbish and to be beaten up are a privileged way of following Christ, not to mention a way of sharing some of what victims have suffered in the Catholic Church.
The real loss from such attitudes is incurred by society. The groups and individuals that are seen in this way will find it harder, not easier, to make up for what they have been part of and to contribute to healing in society. They risk being distracted from what really matters in all this - the welfare of the victims of abuse. Making boxers punch drunk in training is no way to prepare them for the big fight.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

What's It Like to Be a Bishop

I got to do an interview over the summer with Bishop Greg O'Kelly, a Jesuit bishop in Australia.  Fantastic guy working in a very hard part of the country, one of the poorest and largest dioceses there.

The interview just got posted on The Jesuit Post.  Here's the link.   I hope you like it.  He has some really interesting things to say about the experience of being a bishop.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Que Sera Sera (Or, It's Not All About Me, Part 3)

Found this on YouTube this afternoon. It's a group of Thai children singing "Que Sera Sera."  You might want to have some Kleenex handy. It's pretty strong stuff.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It's Not All About You, Part 2

SNL had an amazing skit on Saturday night about the iPhone 5.  A real eye opener for those in the West whining about its features... Talk about perspective -- wow.

The first minute and a half is a little slow.  Wait it out and you'll see what I mean...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Great 30 Second Spot on Jesuit Education: It's Not All About You

A Request

A Request

Should my tongue be tied by stroke
listen to me as if I spoke

and said to you, "My dear, my friend,
stay here a while and take my hand;

my voice is hindered by this clot,
but silence says what I cannot,

and you can answer as you please
such undemanding words as these.

Or let our conversation be
a mute and patient amity,

sitting, all the words bygone,
like a stone beside a stone.

it takes a while to learn to talk
the long language of the rock."

Ursula Le Guin

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Church Mouse Mulls

I was at a Mass last month where a very well liked church leader had this to say as his homily: instead of dismissing the Church's teaching as unreasonable, maybe it's us that are being unreasonable.

And I get that, I really do, especially when it comes to social justice, our treatment of others. I always remember a moral theology prof who said to us, The things you confess all the time, those are not your big sins.  It's the stuff you're not paying attention to where you're really causing trouble.  Seriously, think on that a bit and then try sleeping through the night...

But as I'm listening to this otherwise very affable guy, I'm also thinking to myself, boy, wouldn't it be great if he also said, sometimes the Church needs to be challenged, it's a human institution, and as a result sometimes it is unreasonable?  But no, the entirety of his message was, the problem is ours.  

I don't know, it was like watching someone who had circled the wagons so much he couldn't see out anymore, or was afraid to pop his head up. It was all defense.

Which I guess is an interesting way of thinking about what's been going on in the Church the last 10 years or so, at least in the States. Our leaders have grown more and more outspoken, but generally it's more and more Thou Shalt Nots and fewer Thou Shalts.  You'd be hard pressed to stitch together much of what's been said into a positive vision of the kingdom, of what we're aiming for.

That same moral theology prof taught us that ethics is about striving.  But people strive for tangible, positive things. Striving to not think or do things, I don't know, that's important, too, but it's not enough. You can spend your whole avoiding evil and still not doing any good!

The pro life cause is often framed in terms of you can't do this or that.  But a couple years ago I'm at Timothy Dolan's installation as Archbishop of New York City, and his approach is, "Everybody is somebody".  Much broader, more positive; not an attack line, but a way of living your life. That's what people hunger for, I think; nuanced, intelligent spiritual meat to chew on for their lives. "Don't do or be X" -- it's clear, but it doesn't penetrate, because there's nothing there to hold onto.

Maybe it's all defense now because our leaders feel more under siege than ever before.  But to me that's a real paradox, because in many ways they set the tone of the conversation. I'm not being naive, there's definitely lobbying groups, etc., that try to control the story, spin things negative. But our leaders have these mighty pulpits to speak from. And when they lead with negative, they get the same back.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  And we're stuck in the middle as the missiles fly. (Lordy Lordy, if we have to go through one more round of changes in the liturgy anytime soon, I am going to fall entirely off the rocker!)

I don't have kids (obviously).  But ever since my nephews and nieces have been born, I worry a lot more about the world we're leaving for them, the way we're forming them. And I don't know, a lot of days I'm worried about the kind of people some in the Church want them to grow up to be.  It's a vision so totally disconnected from Jesus.

I'm sure I'm just as guilty. Always easier to blame someone else. I had a great opportunity to interview a bishop a couple weeks ago. The article's going to be posted on another website this week, but when it is I'll attach a link here.  I thought it was a really eye opening look at the challenges of being a leader in the Church today.



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Also: Nashville

Tonight is the debut of the new ABC show NASHVILLE, about an older country singer and her up and coming competition.  The trailers have been great.  And what's even greater is that one of the writers is Jason George, who graduated from UCLA a year ago.  Jason is a really good guy and obviously incredibly talented. (Before coming to UCLA he was writing for the New York Times, among other places.)

It's extremely difficult, especially right out of school, to get a job writing on a writing staff -- almost impossible. It's usually 2, 3 years at least, if it happens at all.  So, come, support this great guy on what looks to be a fantastic show.  (It's on at 10pm/9pm central.) Plus, the pilot was written by Callie Khouri, who wrote THELMA & LOUISE.  What's not to like?

Mrs. Coach needs to watch TV tonight.

The Archbishop's Last Day

Read this great little essay in Eureka Street today.  Had to pass it along to you.

The archbishop's last day


Archbishop's garbThe archbishop awakes at 6am on his 75th birthday. He makes a cup of coffee and dresses for his daily walk. He used to run ten kilometres every morning through the city, wearing his sweatpants and a sweatshirt from one of the Catholic high schools in the city, but mostly now he walks, although here and there, if the sun is out, and he feels limber, he runs. Some people know him and wave and a couple of people bow and say Your Excellency but most of the people he sees just see an old man running, which is not something you see much.
By 8am he has showered and had a second cup of coffee and prayed quietly for a while in his room. By 9am he is at the chancery. At noon he says Mass in the chapel in the chancery. Usually there are maybe 20 people at the noon Mass in the chancery but today there are 60 or 70. Ten or 20 of the people at Mass cross their arms over their chests when they come up for Communion and he blesses them and they say amen and several say thank you and one says happy birthday.
After Mass he skips lunch and goes back to his office.
You know we have to get the letter into the mail today, he says to his secretary.
Yes, Archbishop.
She has worked with him for 14 years, since the very first day he walked cheerfully into the office and soon discovered the horrors boiling under the placid surface of the archdiocese, and she admires him more than any other man she ever met, she thinks, not because of his position but because of the way he handled the rapes and lies and bankruptcy hearings, he never shirked a moment, he never was anything but flat-out honest and blunt about sin and responsibility, and even in the darkest hours he managed some thorny flinty tough cheerfulness and humour that more than once, truth be told, pulled her out of a dark place; if he could keep a smile on his face through all that, then so could she, damn it; a remark she had once made to him in an unguarded moment, which provoked his famous roaring laugh.
He has a laugh like a country, enormous and welcoming and infectious; you can hear him all the way down in the mail room, and supposedly you can hear him in the street outside, even though it is a busy street, always choked with traffic.
In his office he reaches for his dictaphone and dictates the letter. The letter is two paragraphs long. He doesn't hesitate over the language; he knows what he is supposed to say, what he is not averse to saying, but which he does not want to actually finally irredeemably say; but he says it, beginning with Your Holiness and ending with Yours in Christ's love and mercy.
He was melancholy that whole day, says his secretary later.
He turns the dictaphone off and pops out the cassette and walks out his open door and hands the cassette to his secretary. He doesn't say anything and she doesn't say anything either and he goes back in his office.
At 2pm the archbishop comes out of his office and says to his secretary you need to do the letter, remember. The mail comes early and it needs to go out today.
Yes Archbishop, she says, but I put it off and put it off, she says later. I put it off as long as I could. But that was a Wednesday, and the mail does come early on Wednesday, so I finally did it. I printed it out on letterhead and gave it to him. We have a system. He likes to see letters the way they'll look for the recipient. Sometimes he makes little changes and I print out a second copy. I don't mind. We have a system. In this case he did make a couple of small edits. He signed the second copy and I put it in the envelope and walked it down to the mail room. The letter goes to the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., and then into his diplomatic pouch for delivery to HiHoliness. I don't know who opens the diplomatic pouch at the Vatican, no. Perhaps His Holiness' secretary.
The archbishop also celebrates Mass in the Cathedral at 5pm, and this second Mass is packed.
A lot of people who can't get to Mass in the morning or at noon catch the evening Mass at the Cathedral anyway, partly because it's smack downtown and a lot of people can get to it on their way home, but it is also crowded this day because, I think, because it is the archbishop's birthday, and a lot of people have stopped by to convey their regards. I think a lot of people know it was the day he had to write his letter, also, because I hear a lot of people say thank you to him after Mass, so many people that he is almost late for a dinner he has to attend.
He's so friendly and unassuming that this happens to him all the time, where he's almost late for things because everyone wants to talk to him and shake hands and ask for blessings, and he never rushes anyone but he's never late for anything either. We don't know how he does it. I think it comes from him being a parish priest so long. He knows how to be completely accessible and friendly but not get bogged down.
He almost gets bogged down on his birthday, though. I bet a hundred people say thank you for what you have done for us and bless you for your honesty and thank you for saving the children and thank you for your service and bless you for your humor. One man says to him thank you for being a beacon of light in such darkness, it is so pithy and what so many of us think about the archbishop.
But he does finally make it to his car and to the dinner, with about a minute to spare, I think. I don't know how he does it, but he's never late. If he says he will be there, he'll be there. That's why so many of us admire him so much, I think. You can trust that man.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

And Now For Some Real Mystics

Speaking of Australian blogs (most awkward transition ever), I really want to recommend "The King's Blog".  It's written by Geoff King, SJ, (another one) of the great Australian Jesuits, who has welcomed me into his community twice in the last four years. 

Geoff is one of the smartest people I know, and "grounded smart".  A canon lawyer -- a category of people I must say I was always afraid of growing up in the Society, but am discovering is often a gold mine of wisdom and kindness. In the last few years Geoff has been diagnosed with a form of degenerative muscle disorder that's left him wheelchair bound and in need of help to do some of the basic things of life, and he's taken to writing about it and about his life in general.  I see most recently he wrote some reflections on different parishes he has worked at.  It's lovely, a great glimpse into the meaningful stuff in the life of a priest. Highly recommend it.   

Say some prayers for him and a couple other Australian friends of mine, too, would you -- Adrian Lyons, SJ, and Paula Potter. Adrian and Potter have both been struggling with serious, life-threatening medical issues, and they're just the best people. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mystics or Nothing

Eureka Street has an interesting article today from a great Australian Jesuit, Michael Kelly, on the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II. "As my recently deceased spiritual guide, Peter Steele, would never tire of saying: 'There are only two conditions in the spiritual life — you're either growing or you're dying,'" he begins, and goes on to consider how the Church has grown (or died) in the last 50 years. 

I'm not sure I agree with all of it, particularly the at-this-point standard interpretation of Benedict as happy with just a "faithful remnant" for the Church.  It's true, he made a comment like that before becoming Pope. But I haven't seen much evidence of him pursuing that idea as Pope. If anything, he's welcomed back some groups that people have had a hard time accepting

But it's a great article to think about.  

Something it provokes in me: could it be possible on some level that the diminishment of people in the pews is not a bad thing? That it's a signpost of something changing in the way people want to experience God, or of how they understand Eucharist? I don't want to say it's not a loss -- the Eucharist is our primary in our faith and our sense of our community.  I'm just  trying to play the sociologist and understand what people are saying with the choices they're making, particularly those who would continue to self-identify as Catholics.  I might not like the choice they're making, but can I learn from it?  As a great poet once wrote "Christ plays in ten thousand places..." I'd like to know about as many of them as I can.