Thursday, September 3, 2009
Personal Aside: The Kennedy Funeral, the Catholic Church and Its Earthen Vessel Bishops.
The Kennedy Rites.
The funeral of Sen. Edward Kennedy gave us all the opportunity to see up close once again the political malleability and human failings of the Roman Catholic church (which I passionately love and believe in). It was Robert Novak who told me that upon studying the Church he was convinced it is, in fact, identical with what the ancient Fathers said: born from the side of the Savior on the cross like a new Eve. Having founded the Church with his blood, Christ immeasurably strengthened it on Pentecost and inspired it with a sense of mission to preach the gospel to all nations.
But as I told Novak, it is true that Christ in the prisoners dock saw His chief apostle, Peter, flinch. And He did not guarantee succeeding bishops would all be resolute. And he responded this way: But while bishopric human failings disappoint, in some cases enrage, in a long-range sense they dont matter because Christ proclaimed from the outset that He would be its shepherd, that the sheep, while herded inexpertly by human shepherds, would in the last analysis be guided and fed by Christ. That is what the greatest political reporter of our time told me: which I devoutly believed before he said it and which, since I can remember, I have taken to the bank.
That assurance doesnt exempt me from criticizingwhere deserved--the often very human vessels which serve as ostensibly supportive auxiliary shepherds to Jesus Christ. What bothers me most is this: There are Catholics who confuse the often weak auxiliary shepherds with Christ Himself and thereby regard it as heresy if any criticism were to come to them. They develop a sycophantic state of mind, cherishing the sight of miter and crosier, wishing with their trembling fingers to touch the hem of the embroidered gold-threaded vestments as political hangers-on do to shake hands with and ingratiate themselves with high government officials.
No, its not surprising that some bishopsin my experience many--enjoy being elevated in a worldly sense and treated as minor civic potentates apart from their official capacity as shepherds of the flock of Christ. That is the human condition, after all. But the laity could help a great deal if they were not so often in awe of the trappings and ecclesiastical powerbut especially in our present age that seems not to be.
This errant congregational veneration has been responsible for a good many misconceptions. It ignores the fact that individual bishops do NOT enjoy the prerogative of infallibility (they do so in instances of collegial agreement, as they have since A. D. 325 and until the Second Vatican Council which closed in 1965). But individual infallibility among bishops (save that of Rome) is not even remotely to be suggested.
Meaning as will be shown in the next paragraph they can be as dumb, lacking in patriotism and historical sense as any two-bit politician. And worse because often they parade with the aura of sanctimonousness.
I remember a bishop not long ago telling a group of Catholic businessmen that they should understand his views on the economics of world trade constitute the mark of progress in each and every condition. Because he is a bishop a prince of the Church, actually and because he also has two unrelated doctorates, there was a great deferential baaing of lay sheep and murmurs of yes Eminence! despite the fact he had never worked in a business enterprise a day in his life nor has his delicately small, manicured, ringed hands had never been sullied by physical labor of any sort since long before his days in the seminary. Some time later a mitered authority (not of U.S. history, certainly) said in response to a question that the U. S. really has gone through several stagesa nation of slavery a nation of mercantilism, meaning where the poor were usurped by property confiscators and a nation of militarism.
Brayed the laity at that dinner: Yes, Eminence! Baa-baa-baa!
And so I said then and now: What rubbish! Opus Dei which I aver contains a great number of valiant Green Berets of the church and with which a child of mine has affiliated could help itself by not being so subservient to so much non-ecclesial hierarchal whim: but I love and revere the organization nonetheless and take joy to confessing to one of its greatest priests.
Now We Get to the Nub.
It is good to remember that when Henry VIII took over the church of England, all the bishops sold out but one.
He was Saint John Fisher who lost his head.
The scorecard should not dismay anyonebut rather should exhilarate. That one volunteered martyrdom is exemplary! Likewise we should not shrink away from the Church because its bishops here do not make much of Humanae Vitae since it is unpopular and that few bring up abortion which has become a secular sacrament to the liberal Democratic party. In the moral order the Churchs teaching on contraception and abortion which exemplifies an inerrancy is still preached. Matter of fact, in my lifetime things have improved impressively. What started out as a handful of bishopric vocal supporters has grown.
Nevertheless there are disappointments, I grant youwhich we must offer up without despair (but disappointments that should be expressed in public with strong dismay). My own impression of Sean OMalley, a Franciscan friar who spoke at Catholic Citizens of Illinois some years ago, was very high and I was overjoyed when he was picked to succeed Bernard Cardinal Law who was spirited out of this country to a safe berth in Rome after for the first time in the history of the Church in America fifty priests urged his resignation for misfeasance in handling pedophilia cases. I looked at OMalley when he came to our meeting in Chicagowith his full grey beard, sturdy body and brown penitential cassock as something the hierarchy sorely needed.
Well OMalley was chosen to succeed Law, was given the red hat and what has happened? We found we have been given yet another political trimmer. The fatally ill Kennedy had sent a letter to Benedict XVI delivered by President Obama during the presidents trip to Rome. One would expect that in the letter to the Vicar of Christ, Kennedy would have mentioned in contrition his key enabling role in support of abortion, his scandalous endorsement of an act that the Church has taught to be a grave sin since its early days. Especially since Kennedy was dying, had no hope of returning to public life and was facing his Maker.
Not so. The same old duplicitous Kennedy was there, citing his support of economic issues to champion the rights of the poor and dodging as he has most of his life mention of his heavy moral responsibility in sanctioning the death of the innocent unborn. One has to ask: what in the name of God did Kennedy hope to achieve by this duplicity at the end of his days? Benedict wisely responded, praying that in his final days Kennedy by sustained in faith and hope (a hint of the need to repent).
Benedict behaved with courage: no formal mention came from the Vatican after Kennedys death nor should one have come since Kennedy, mum and politically correct until the undertaker closed his sightless eyes had not formally repented. That should have been the signal for OMalley to follow Benedicts lead. But courage failed Sean OMalley. The test came and he folded to political convention like a cheap card-table. Sure, since no one knows what may have transpired between Kennedy and his confessor in his last minutes on earth, it is fair to assume the best, that he had received the actual grace manifest in Gods providential care in supplying His light and strength to those who ask Him. We are told Kennedy died assisted by the sacraments. That was good news. But there still was no publicly expressed contritionso the secular mourning from the crowd could begin and assuredly, a private Mass certainly was warranted.
But OMalley weakened. The Boston Irish pressure was too much. And so, like so many, tinctured by fear of the medias opprobrium, he ordered a PUBLIC Mass to be celebrated August 29 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Roxbury, Mass. that took on the air of glorification aided immeasurably by the president of the incumbent President of the United States, OMalley himself, many clergy, a boatload of politicians and television for the nation to see. Thus with OMalleys endorsement, a celebration of the life of one who never publicly repented for his enthusiastic opposition to Church teaching and the natural law: abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. OMalley will have to live with that demonstration of weakness rather than challenge popular convention.
Moreover what was offered was not a Requiem Massoffered to God as the canon dictates: a propitiatory sacrifice for Kennedys soul but a Mass as described by its celebrant, Rev. Donald Monan, S.J., a Mass and resurrection [sic] to commemorate the life of Senator Kennedyadding His strong suit was the faith of the great Hebrew prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah [and] Amos and [h]is public faith was reinforced and nurtured in Christian scriptures. This statement was nothing less than a sacrilegeviolation or contemptuous treatment. Of whom? Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos for three: of the Catholic church in its completeness. Such larding and unctuousness was unnecessary and inappropriate; moreover a profanation of what is sacred. The deceaseds souls destiny is known only to God but to insist what is not true was in fact sacrilege, if not authorized outright by OMalley certainly sanctioned by him. Bernie Law and the Kennedy familys favorite mitered pol the fixer of all embarrassing difficulties, Richard Cushing couldnt have done much better.
Thanks, Sean. Were all one: the Boston Irish, arent we old boy?
Then came the Prayers of the Faithful, perverted into political messages from a family that, out of charity can be said to be uneducated on the teachings of the Church. One of Max Allen (son of Kara Kennedy Allen, Ted and Joans only daughter): [T]hat every American will have decent quality health care as a fundamental right [sic] and a privilege. And from Jack Schlossberg, son of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg a dash of ultra-liberal politics flavored with mordant sacrilege: [W]here we can rise to our best ideals [sic], close the book on the old politics of race and gender [sic], group against group and straight against gay [sic].
Then came OMalleys remarks. Before imparting the last blessing, he turned to Obama and said: Mr. President, we thank you for your presence and for your words of appreciation for the life and work of Senator Kennedy [sic]. Were gathered here today to pray for a man who has been such an important part of our history and our country.
Ba-a-a, ba-a your Eminence. Wolsey would be proud.
Well, the failings of a multiplicity of weak bishops will not undo our belief nor generate cynicism but instead should produce sadness that the approbation of this world means so mucheven to one who has spent his adulthood attired in a Franciscan cassockto flinch rather than advance the cause to which they pledged enlistment.
Only one more thing needs to be said after all this.
To paraphrase the ghosted speech delivered at the 1980 Democratic convention written by pro-abort Catholic Bob Shrum:
Despite all the failings of the weakling mitered ones whom we are expected to revere the work of Christ and His Church will go on,
the cause will endure
the hope will still live
and our love for prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude in our daily lives
will never die.