Who do the bishops think they are?
(Letter to Helena Hahn Basquette - continued)
Are you still reading this?
I just called you a monster! Perhaps I was harsh.
realize there were and are people who agonized over these things. There
were then and are now marriages that are in difficulty. There were and
are those with serious medical issues. I had one sister who couldn’t
conceive and another sister who couldn’t keep from conceiving. We
discussed these things at length over dinner in my home back in the
early sixties. If you struggled to obey, if you agonized over
your decisions, God keep me from condemning you. It’s not
you that I blame. The real monsters are those who made or make the
decision glibly thinking only of the inconvenience or expense of large
families. The monsters are those who sacrifice children to Moloch and
Baal, the Canaanite gods of prosperity.
In the current age it is
simply assumed that one will be sexually active before marriage and
will practice artificial birth control. It is routine when a doctor
interviews a young woman, married or unmarried, he asks “What kind of
birth control are you using?” (It is interesting to note that a doctor
never seems to ask a young man the same question. Another victory for
feminism, no?) Extra marital sex is the assumption and small families
are the expectation. Chastity, marital fidelity and large families
seem odd, or even irresponsible now.
The monsters are
those of us who, for love of ease and money have grown callous to the
beauty and sacredness of human sexuality and its relationship to the
family. Further, we, the clergy are the ones to blame for the
monstrosity. We failed to teach the Catholic Faith. We encouraged you
to pick and choose those teachings that were most useful and least
brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the
church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)
the scoffers of the 60' and 70's will soon have to face God and I
tremble because of all the people I misled. Thinking it was kindness, I
failed to say the hard things. Now as my life hurries to its final
chapters, I realize that I deprived people of the truth, I deprived
them of real love by trying to be polite. If there is a lion about to
devour you, is it kindness on my part not to point it out? If I fail to
warn you of danger simply because I don’t want to upset you, or to
anger you, is this love?
We clergy in the years after the
Council taught a diluted faith that made few demands. Fasting was no
longer important. Marital fidelity was a high ideal, but not really
practical. Mass was optional. Frequent Confession was tedious and an
invasion of privacy. Father would make up the Mass as he went along,
and use bread baked by the liturgy committee that was tastier than a
dry communion wafer. He used wine that had a bit more zing, like a good
port. We had general absolutions at Christmas and Easter. Everybody
should go to communion, because we were now all sinless. God
understands our weakness.
What we did mattered not so much
as what we felt. It was our good intentions that mattered. If we had
made a “fundamental option” for God, then the rest was unimportant,
after all St. Augustine said “Love God and do what you will.” We taught
you to pick and choose among the treasures of the faith.
see people my own age who, when they talk about their children, get a
far away look in their eyes. “Yes, my daughter lives in California.
That’s where her career took her. She was married, but got divorced and
the grand kids spend their time going between Nevada where their father
lives and then back to California. We see them on some holidays when
it’s mom’s turn to have them, but it’s all right... they seem OK. They
were baptized, but I don’t think they go to church much. I’m not
sure..... My son lives in California too. He never married and I hear
from him fairly regularly.... He’s always going on trips with his
friends. He’s taken some wonderful vacations, and sends us photos, but
he doesn’t come back to the Midwest much...”
I have this
conversation all the time, or ones like it. It breaks my heart. I want
to run away and weep, not because you have sinned, but because I have.
I taught a kind of Christianity that inspired no one because it
demanded nothing. All truths were the same. All religions were as good,
one as one another. The old man in the Vatican couldn’t tell me or you
how to run our lives.
I remember now with great shame going to
dinner with some fellow seminarians on Ash Wednesday. We of course
ordered meat, just a sign of “Christian Liberty.” It was purely an act
of defiance. If it is true that love is sacrifice, then I taught
narcissism as if it were love, just as I had been taught by a seminary
of priests who left the priesthood. I remember a dramatic reading of
the Song of Songs that was the grand finale of one my theology school
classes. It was read antiphonally by a priest professor and a friend of
his, a nun. They did it with great feeling looking longingly at one
another and reciting in hushed breathy tones. A month or two later they
ran off together. Haven’t heard of either of them since. So now our
churches are empty, our nests are empty and our hearts are empty. God
forgive me. And, as God is my witness, I cannot do it any longer.
Perhaps there is still time.
I recently got a letter pointing
out that “ ...your rhetoric appears to be heading towards absolute
dogmatic adherence without the necessary nuances... Empathy,
Forgiveness, Charity, Reconciliation are the words I would like to hear
at Mass more often and less archaic rituals."
Maybe the writer
was correct. Please understand that there is no one unloved by
God, and that all one must do to receive forgiveness is to admit sin.
If we can really admit that we “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Romans3:23), then we are on the path to heaven. But to say that my sin is not sin is the surest road to hell.
the clergy helped you along that road to hell by assuring you that your
sin was not sin! How often have you gone into a confessional and heard
the priest say, “Oh, that’s not really a sin.” You knew it was a sin.
It was eating you up inside, but father told you it was okay. Do you
think you will be punished nearly as harshly as I will be? I tremble to
think of the wrath that awaits me!
I remember hearing of a man
who repented all his life of a childhood prank. Everyone said it was
nothing. He knew it was something. As a boy, he and his friends had
turned a sign on a country road so that it pointed in the wrong
direction. It was all great fun. He wondered all his life how many
people he had misled who never found their destination because of
something he thought good fun. It haunted him on his very
deathbed. So many of us clergy turned the signs that led to
heaven and replaced them with the sign that led to hell. God be
merciful to us.
The few heroes who held out for the faith were
mocked and hounded into silence or obscurity. I remember going to a
lecture by an old priest who questioned some of the liturgical changes.
I was invited by some of the older seminarians to come along and
heckle. It was all great fun. We who wanted to get along and go along,
and preached the new and more pleasant Gospel.
I believe with
all my heart that God is giving us, the clergy, another opportunity to
accept the teaching of the Church and to obey the pope regarding Humanae Vitae
and the sacred liturgy of the Mass. What will happen if we once again
refuse to obey? Haven’t the moral scandals of the past forty years been
enough? What will happen if we priests once again refuse Him? I, for
one, will obey this time and hope that God will have mercy on me in my
Again, I know this sounds very harsh. That it sounds
harsh is not the matter. More importantly, is it true? There are
people who cannot have children but long to or are able only to have a
small family. I am not speaking about them. I am speaking about those
who refuse the gift that God would give, and even more I am speaking
about myself and the others who taught a shallow materialism.
the woman who could not bear children received sympathy. Now, the woman
who has a large family is pitied and often looked down on. Have we
forgotten what the Lord said on His way to Calvary?
the time will come when you will say, '"blessed are the barren women,
the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!'" when
they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover
us!’ For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will
happen when it is dry? (Luke 23: 29-31)
We are the generation of the green wood. The dry wood is surely on its way.
(You guessed it! To be continued.....)
Here To Ask The Reverend Know-It-All A Question
Who do the bishops think they are?