Monday, September 22, 2003

Jonesy: So English! So Jesuit! So Insightful !

His name was Jones but everyone called him "Jonesy". He was VERY English and very anxious that this be known. He had a great bullneck surrounded by an Anglican-type clerical collar, two sizes too large. He had a huge bald head which came to a kind of point on the top. He smoked a smelly pipe which he kept between fashionably clenched false teeth. His eyeglasses were the thick egg shell variety surrounded by black tortoise shell rims. His cassock or soutane was the classic Oxford don style with twin tails flowing off his shoulders.

He was exceedingly intimidating to me, a very green,very inexperienced, freshly minted little priest just out of a hot house seminary in Washington DC. I had just disembarked from a 9,000 ton freighter after a 17 day voyage on the Atlantic. I had spent 17 boring and frustrating days watching flying fish,reading,eating big meals, chipping paint, listening to the pained declarations of happiness of a married minister as he screamed all day at his children and trying to learn French from three Marists Brothers en route to a difficult and primitive mission in Rhodesia.

Jonesy terrified me. Even after I saw him grovelling appropriately before the Irish Capuchin Bishop of Capetown, with his "Yes, me Lord. No, me Lord", I was still scared of him. He was not only a Jesuit, a factor enough to panic any dirty necked kid from the New York tenements like me, but he was also ENGLISH! As they used to say: "If he were any more English, he couldn't speak."

So when the Pastor of the very swanky seaside parish where I was staying awaiting transport into the " interior", asked two of his parishioners to take me for day tour of the beautiful Cape of Good Hope, I ran into my Jonesy problem. The two parishioners were very good looking young women, who, by happy chance, were also VERY wealthy.

Jonesy patently disapproved of this venture. He glared at me from his high station and muttered in a veddy,veddy English manner: "WELL.....I SUPPOSE WE ALL MUST HAVE OUR POUND OF HORSE (pronounced "hawse") FLESH, MUSTN'T WE??

I was shaken. What did this patriarchal figure mean? Was I doing something wrong in driving with these charming women? Was I demeaning an older priest by letting these two pretty gals take me out all day to watch the melding of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans? What was he telling me ? He couldn't be wrong. He was a JESUIT! And even more, he was ENGLISH!

It has taken me decades to savor Jonesy's meaning. He was instructing a callow and gossoon-like priest with two basic lessons of life.

1. Every one has to deal with temptation. Not just with concupiscience but with tendencies to greed,laziness,deceit,inordinate ambition,envy, human respect,non-compassion, mercilessness, unforgiveness, narcississm, over sensitivity,pride in its disguised forms,hardness of heart and covetousness. All of us are subject to Original sin. Jonesey was saying even young priests with high flown ideals and aspirations must be aware of their own fragility. He says, in effect, --remember that you are human and with humility admit that if we wish to lose "weight" we have to stay away from the symbolic food which could imperiously demand our adoration.

2. There is no such thing as real perfection in any human being. We all have our characterologic scars and spiritual warts and multiple soul wrinkles. Jonesy says that it is all right to be human and to admit that one is fallible. Hurrah! And one can be reminded that in the whole history of the human race, there have been only two perfect persons. Jesus, Who being God, found it relatively easy and Our Blessed Lady who by a singular theologic exception was without sin.

The gloriously liberating emotional result of this insight was simply:

"It is all right to have scars and wrinkle and warts. Join the club of Adam and Eve." As long as one is deeply and truly aware that Godloves him with and implacable love and that in return one tries to love God back with all one's brokenness and imperfection and even after many regretted sins, somehow --with the Lord--- it is all right!!!!!

It was to say that the Catholic Church is not a museum for plastic saints but a clinic for sinners!!!!! That means ---- all of us! Many years ago I had instructed a truly brilliant Jewish woman preparatory to Baptism. But she insisted, before entering the Church, that I declare to her that Hitler is burning in Hell. This I could not do--even tho' I,myself am half Jewish. My religion is the religion of the second chance, the perennial font of hope, the religion of forgiveness. My religion totally believes in the POWER of God's mercy and of the force of grace to reform and rehabilitate.

As sinners, we are to respect all others. We are to hurt no one deliberately. WE are to try to do unto the other as we would have him do unto us. These are difficult lessons to implement when we understand the human nature that Jonesy trumpeted. So, it takes a lifetime even to approach such implementation. Such is a deduction from my Jonesy 54 years ago. So,hopefully, I will meet him in heaven and I shall cup my heavenly hands and shout over the din of the harps and whatever makes people happy "up there":

Hey Jonesy! I FINALLY GOT IT! As someone said somewhere, "better late than never..." Right, Jonesy?

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