Thursday, November 17, 2016

On Chad, Who Once “Was” a Priest

When I met him on my entry into the seminary, he was practically  everyone’s  hero. He was a third  year theologian preparing for Deacon ordination. He  had it  all. Top student  with an  honors licentiate in theology  from a prestigious university, superb athlete,  brilliant  in baseball, star basketball player, exceptional singer with  credits from several choirs,  sparkling personality, confidently moved easily in all social levels, spiritual, sharp sense of humor, tall, handsome, everyone’s  favorite  when he preached in his clear, rich,  resonant voice, and great  practical Faith.  He had almost universal popularity. He presented to the world  a persona of the ideal seminarian.

Yet, after only two years of serving as a priest, he walked out of what seemed to be a perfect match between  two factors.  Chad and priesthood. How could this be? Should  it happen in this modern era,  there would be some surprised reactions , some shoulder shrugging, but generally this would be probably  seen as just another career change. A smart, “with-it” young priest I knew told me that  he was not going to stay in this “job” more than ten years!  So, he married and began a chic job with Pepsi-Cola, selling carbonated water! Priesthood to him was analagous to being a teacher or clerk in Walgreens. No necessary,  pervasive commitment.  However, seventy years ago it was  colossally  chaotic. It was  unheard of. It was  unbelievable.  It was simply not possible!  I was  three or four years behind Chad,  in preparation  for priesthood,  and I was stunned. 

                                       How could this happen?  This was every one’s question. Later, I used  him as  an  example of  Paul’s admonition:  “Lest after having preached to others, I myself  might become a castaway.” Even in far away South Africa where I functioned as a missionary, I knelt in small chapels and darkened churches and shuddered as I thought of Chad. Terrified lest it might happen to me. After all,  if this happens in the green wood ,what can  we say about the dry?  Whenever  I thought of what Chad had done I became semi-nauseous.

But what had he done?

He met a pretty girl  from tenth avenue  with a slim, graceful body and  an engaging, outgoing  personality. She was an accomplished dancer.  I used to dance with her, myself,  during my high school years and was not surprised when later she joined the   June Taylor troupe favored by Jackie Gleason and the Big  Wigs of television. Somehow, Chad and she developed a relationship which became  more   than “ good  friends”.  First it was the popular young priest ministering to a  lively young Catholic girl   which subtlely, imperceptively became, in time,  more than a young man fascinated  by flapping pretty eyes. He was “captivated” by her. Utterly.   So, he left  the priesthood to pursue a life with his Love.They had six children together, including a set of  triplets.

Initially they had great difficulty making it in a tough competitive world but he eventually made a comfortable living  in the world of insurance. Further, he earned a pilot’s license and became a master magician  performing publicly as a professional.  His many gifts made worldly success a highly  predictable outcome.. But, as the world knows, no one escapes the pain and suffering  inherent  in being human..  In due course, she developed problems with alcohol, possibly  from unconscious or unrecognized guilt. Sadly, she died leaving him alone with  their  children.  Chad, however, went  on not only to a second wife who also died but finally  to a third one  who followed her predecessors  in death.

Three wives. All dead. Six children, two of whom are deceased. What now?

I received a phone call from Chad two years ago after years of non communication. He had seen my name pop up in his research  for any priest who might  remember  him. His only son  drove him in to my rectory where Chad had briefly served so many years  ago.  He  told me the following.  He is now a daily communicant. He makes a Holy hour once a week. He is a Lector in his church. A veritable pillar of his parish  even at the age of 96 years.

Nevertheless, he wanted to  talk. To put things into some kind of perspective. A  man in the mid  nineties, with a wide theological  background who believes, despite all his reconciliation and spiritual direction, that he has  “betrayed  my Lord”,  and who will  need strong encouragement as he feels  inevitable death  moving in on  him.

He is too educated in  formal  theology to  accept the superficial observation of my young priest  friend mentioned above  regarding the “tossing off” of priesthood  once he took off the collar!! Chad had studied the theology of the  Catholic priesthood and firmly believed in the ancient concept  of   “ a priest forever” according to the order of Melchisadech. He believes that his soul was  imprinted  with an  indelible seal which  he will wear for eternity When I told him that I am the oldest, living member of my community, he quickly replied” “No, you’re not. I am”.  “Seal”  wise, with his few years of ordination seniority,  he is correct even though I am the  oldest  active member. Yet, his insight  is traditional and classic.

After a profound pouring out of  heartfelt remorse  he asked me to take him to the altar where he was ordained so many years ago. It tore me up to see his “look” as he seemed  transfixed before the huge altar where he became  “alter Christus.”

I had many thoughts and ideas after leaving Chad. The one that strikes me most  is the following.

It is crystal clear from a Catholic theological view, from a Catholic spirituality point of view, from a Catholic tradition point of view  that  the loving, generous Lord of ours is mercy itself, Who puts all of our sins in back of Him, always forgives those who truly ask for forgiveness,  even for what seems gigantic sin.  This  is the  Lord Who embraces His Prodigal Son  who is us all!.   This Lord always gives a “second chance”— even  sends His Son  to die an unbelievably cruel death  to redeem us all from  our sins.. All because of  His implacable love for us! 

One would conclude that a person fully  educated in the Catholic stance would accept such a perception - - - even as elementary.  It is obvious and logical.  But apparently, there  is something functioning which is  stronger than the obvious and the logical. For people like Chad, vibes pour out in a stream—guilt, shame, unworthy, unloveable, unforgiveable, need punishment,  and endless expressions  tantamount to saying that God would never really forgive me!  I cannot accept forgiveness—especially  from God. My sin  is too great. Is it a humility problem? I’m better  than those guys who accept less  than perfection! 

Do we not have powerful examples of  persons, terribly human and weak but loving, who, somehow, by God’s warm grace, “made it” into  the peace and joy of the saint? Do  I not hear  voices  shouting, affirmatively?  Is it not Peter I hear? Or Paul? Or Magdelene?  Augustine?   Or the thousands  over the centuries who accepted the Divine  Embrace? Why can’t it be Chad, too? He has done well  in handling  his debt to the Lord. But why the  prolonged suffering? The guilt? The remorse? Why can’t he let it all go? Why can’t he heed the call of Mercy from Jesus?

It strikes  me, then, that I am basically looking at an emotional tangle not an intellectual puzzle or math theorem. There are certainly  real evidences of intellectual distortion of Christ’s loving invitation. But,  this pain cannot be intrinsically healed by high flown literature as beautiful and inspiring as it often is. The resolution of his  pain somehow is giving in to God. Or as Mother Teresa  taught :  Give God permission to love you. Or relying more on the explosive grace of the Lord  than on white knuckling!  Would it be so terrible to seek humbly the skilled help of a Therapist,  knowledgeable in things spiritual? Human feelings are  explosive and often need human modes of treatment  along with  the classsic  wisdom of the Faith.

It is clear from the Lord’s teaching that we cannot have eternal happiness until we have paid the last penny.But I cannot find anywhere even a trace of brutality in His love. Cannot our repenant awareness of our failings co-exist  with an acceptance of His continued assurance of His  lovely inner Peace,  His sense of  joy?  Can not atonement  live in harmony with  “appropriate “ fun? Are we not an Incarnational people? One’s resolution of these apparent antitheses  is essential, I think, for a balanced Catholic spirituality.

In any event,  it goes on obsessively —“round and round”. People of high education and character can punish themselves for years—relentlessly, and unnecessarily.   Do they believe that this is God ’s Will?  The Sinner should suffer endessly and terribly in his life  for what he or she has done or not done?  Is  he is  afraid  to take God at His word? Or won’t  he trust the Love of the Lord.? Is this some kind of perverse, loopy, spirituality  which grabs decent  people and hurls them  into a vicious, merciless hell on  earth? Weren’t  harsh attitudes like this consistently condemned by God’own Church?    The Cathari, the Albigensians, the Jansenists?  Yet, I  recall William Langland’s   “Pier’s Plowman”  in which he describes some nuns of an earlier era  as “ Pure as angels, but proud as devils….”  Lopsided  views of God have alway been with us.  Or is it  a kind of  confused humility?   If this is the case, then, not only are they proud  but from my experience, often joyless and driven.

I wonder if people who suffer  like Chad have difficulty in having real fun!   Personally, I’ ll give my vote to  Hilaire Belloc who, I think, had a  telling point.    “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine  There’s laughter, dancing and good red wine
                  at least, I’ve always found it so,  benedicamus Domino” 


Old buddies  saying goodbye! 

The joy of reconnecting  after  60 years

1 comment:

Your bloviating TennisTitan said...

Father Jim... you and Chad have the 'seal,' one of friendship renewed after 65 years. It was blessed again in the presence of Our Lord on the altar. God Bless. Tom Briscoe