Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Facing the Minotaur and Finding our Way to Freedom

"The multitude of men and women choose the less adventurous way of the comparatively unconscious civic and tribal routines. But these seekers, too, are saved -- by virtue of the inherited symbolic aids of society, the rites of passage, the grace-yielding sacraments, given to mankind of old by the redeemers and handed down through millennia. It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is desperate; that is to say, most of us today, in this labyrinth without and within the heart. Alas, where is the guide, that fond virgin, Ariadne, to supply the simple clue that will give us courage to face the Minotaur, and the means then to find our way to freedom when the monster has been met and slain?

"Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, fell in love with the handsome Theseus the moment she saw him disembark from the boat that had brought the pitiful group of Athenian youths and maidens for the Minotaur. She found a way to talk with him, and declared that she would supply a means to help him back out of the labyrinth if he would promise to take her away from Crete with him and make her his wife. The pledge was given. Ariadne turned for help, then, to the crafty Daedalus, by whose art the labyrinth had been constructed and Ariadne's mother enabled to give birth to its inhabitant. Daedalus simply presented her with a skein of linen thread, which the visiting hero might fix to the entrance and unwind as he went into the maze. It is, indeed, very little that we need! But lacking that, the adventure into the labyrinth is without hope.

"The little is close at hand. Most curiously, the very scientist who, in the service of the sinful king, was the brain behind the horror of the labyrinth, quite as readily can serve the purposes of freedom. But the hero-heart must be at hand. For centuries Daedalus has represented the type of the artist-scientist: that curiously disinterested, almost diabolic human phenomenon, beyond the normal bounds of social judgment, dedicated to the morals not of his time but of his art. He is the hero of the way of thought -- singlehearted, courageous, and full of faith that the truth, as he finds it, shall make us free.

"And so now we may turn to him, as did Ariadne. The flax for the linen of his thread he has gathered from the fields of the human imagination. Centuries of husbandry, decades of diligent culling, the work of numerous hearts and hands, have gone into the hackling, sorting, and spinning of this tightly twisted yarn. Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Priest's Dilemma, A Church's Sinfulness

I have just finished reading Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love, by Father Alberto Cutie. Padre Alberto, famous in the Southeastern United States and in much of Latin America for his work in the media, particularly in television, was propelled to international notoriety when pictures of the Roman Catholic priest and his girlfriend lying on a Miami beach appeared on the Internet and in tabloid and mainstream newspapers in early 2009. Removed from active ministry and deprived of salary and benefits, Cutie subsequently joined the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church and now serves as a priest in a Miami parish. He and his girlfriend were married and now have a daughter.

Dilemma tells the story of Father Cutie's journey of receiving the call to the priesthood from God and becoming a a very busy and active priest, both as pastor of various parishes and as media personality. It describes his increasing awareness of and concern over dysfunction in the Catholic Church, particularly among clergy and the hierarchy. And it tells the story of how Fr. Cutie was suddenly faced with an almost unbearable challenge to his promise of celibacy when he met and fell in love with Ruhama, the woman who would eventually become his wife.

The story of this priest's struggle was not as interesting to me as was the view of a Church insider of its serious state of dysfunction and of the disconnection between the institutionalized Catholicism as reflected in the attitudes and actions of the hierarchy and the real lives of the people in the pews. Father Cutie knew many priests who were cast aside by their bishop upon even the slightest suspicion of misconduct and with no opportunity to prove their innocence. He and his parishioners experienced the cold shoulder of the archbishop in times of great need. For example, in 2002 he was appointed temporary administrator of a very large parish whose "hugely popular, charismatic" pastor had been removed after allegations of sexual abuse.

Four months into my job as administrator at San Isidro, I finally went to my bishop to find out how much longer I would have to stay at the megachurch. He assured me that I would only be there a few more months. Instead, I remained assigned there for nearly two full years, working fifteen hours a day.

What was most disappointing to me is that never again in those two years did the bishop speak to me. Not once! He never visited the parish, called, or asked how the San Isidro church was doing or how the parishioners felt. There was no discussion about what the game plan should be for the future of this important parish, either.

Finally, after a few more months had gone by, I called his priest secretary - a young monsignor - to ask when we could expect the archbishop to visit; I still thought that he might be planning to speak to the hurting flock and to listen to their pain regarding their ousted pastor. The secretary's response was curt: "I'm sure the archbishop will visit San Isidro the next time that he is scheduled for Confirmation."

I couldn't believe it. Church officials were acting as if nothing special at all had happened in that parish, despite the blaze of bad press and the obvious knowledge that the people this pastor had served were feeling shattered. Never mind the fact that I had been thrown into this situation to face the press and the parish with zero support. I knew that I'd get through everything with a lot of prayer and help from people in the parish, many of whom were wonderfully understanding. What bothered me more was that Church officials obviously felt no real need to face the people of this parish, who were hungry for answers and wanted to know about the future of their spiritual home. These people had invested a lot of their time and resources into this megachurch, yet the officials of the archdiocese ran from them like the plague.

Again, I had to observe that this removed, rigid, and dysfunctional way of conducting business was all too common for the Church. It appeared as if those in positions of authority seemed determined to keep their distance from anything - or anyone - that might contaminate them or hurt their chances of continuing to climb the Church ladder. Until the time these incidents occurred, I was convinced that bishops were shepherds with a spiritual and [pastoral role to fulfill. Unfortunately, what I saw were Church leaders who ran and hid from difficult situations, including those which needed them the most.
 The idealism of this young priest, including a commitment to live a life of celibacy, was gradually eroded by what he observed and what he experienced in ministry. He knew and knew of many priests, bishops, and even cardinals who secretly kept girlfriends or boyfriends, some even maintaining separate residences so that they could live with their partners. His own situation, in which he truly loved being a priest while loving a woman at the same time, made him question the wisdom of the requirement for celibacy. And through the problems and questions of the thousands of people he came into contact with in his parochial and media ministries, he began to question other Church doctrines and policies.

Father Cutie's book is a passionate, generally reasoned, and ultimately devastating critique of a Church that desperately needs reform. His decision to leave the Church he grew up in and loves reflects, apart from the fallout of the scandal he created, his view that such reform will not be quickly forthcoming.

If I have one criticism of this book, and it is not a small one, it is that Father Cutie never fails to present himself as a kind of ideal priest and as a victim of the dysfunctional hierarchy. While both of these may be true to a great degree, this approach detracts from the credibility of the story enough to diminish the effect of what I regard to be the true value of this book, a view of the rot from the inside.

Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile read.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doing Better

From Jewish with Feeling: Meaningful Jewish Practice, by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi:

The Hasidim tell of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who used to say, before he went  to sleep at night, "Master of the Universe, today I didn't do so well. I promise that tomorrow I'm going to do better."
Immediately he would chide himself. "But Levi Yitzchak, that's what you said last night!"

"Ah, but tonight," he'd reply to himself, "tonight I really mean it."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mythology and Religion

Joseph Campbell on mythology and religion:

My favorite definition of mythology: Other people's religion. My favorite definition of religion: Misunderstanding of mythology. The misunderstanding consists in the reading of the spiritual mythological symbols as if they were primarily references to historical events. Localized provincial readings separate the various religious communities. Remythologization - recapturing the mythological meaning - reveals a common spirituality of mankind.