When I find
times of trouble
Every evening, as this Hi Hi Hi there summer gets underway, hundreds of Catholics gather outside of Milton Hospital, a partner in the Massachusetts Commission on End of Life Care program. They believe a miracle has occurred in the condensation on a third floor window of the hospital, probably assisted with chemical residue from a past washing leaked through broken moulding, and claim they see an image of the Virgin Mary. Chester (my four and a half month old kitten) has acquired a tobacco fixation and now steals cigarettes at every opportunity. Though I occasionally fail to fully appreciate Catholics, cat licks, and summertime, in keeping with convention I have to ask: What would Jesus drink?
The Roman Church, unlike other apostolic traditions, can always be counted on for a controversial good time. Just a scant two weeks after weaseling a plea bargain concerning accusations he covered up the sexual misconduct of priests, the (now former) Bishop of the Phoenix, AZ diocese, the Most Reverend Thomas O’Brien, had a few adult beverages after mass, got in his car and took the life of a 43 year old man in a hit-and-run accident. O’Brien says he thought he might have hit a dog. Okay, he didn’t have a mangled body stuck in his windshield, but the glass on the passenger side of his car was significantly caved in and only liars or idiots wouldn’t have contacted the police or somebody to report the incident. Even killing a dog, someone’s pet, would necessitate a phone call. The car was not driveable with a damaged windshield and he didn’t even call his insurance company. A liar or an idiot? Enquiring souls want to know.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law, former archbishop of Boston, MA, took time off from his vacation and emerged at a recent St. Louis, MO meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as “Archbishop Emeritus.” I don’t consider this news, so much as trivia. It’s like autograph seekers and stolen personal items on sale through E-Bay wait just around the bend.
Last week, an associate and occasional colleague of mine spoke with a professor at a local Catholic college. The professor expressed outrage that Law would be back shaking hands over drinks so soon after leaving Boston. My occasional colleague suggested the professor’s outrage could add some meat to the bones of a possibly contentious story about the ongoing sexual abuse scandal in the Church. “Forget about it,” I advised (sans bad accent). Besides, the recent appointment of Sean Patrick O'Malley as Metropolitan Archbishop of Boston is the story du jour.
The meeting did, however, manage to produce further clarification on how to handle sick and allegedly sick priests, as well as something concerning Native Americans, and while these developments rise to the category of news, that Law attended a convention borders on gossip. The guys with the red and white beanies don’t get out much (which might be a good thing) and the meeting was like similar conventions held by industry or hobbyists all the time -- only these guys were bishops and archbishops (and one “Archbishop Emeritus”). It was just a convention.
Apparently the media and much of the general public are under the impression that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is powerful, rich, and speaks with the same authority as the Vatican. Not worthy of a replay. The USCCB website readily offers its history from the replacement of the 1917 National Catholic War Council with the 1919 National Catholic Welfare Council, which became the National Catholic Welfare Conference around 1922. His Holiness Pope Benedict XV encouraged the collected efforts of American bishops. The resulting non-profit publication and lobbying corporation based in Washington, D. C. remains just so much talk, paperwork and conventions. They basically lobby and raise funds so that they can meet again and lobby and raise more funds. As such, they’re little different than many other non-profit groups. No one carries a spare set of the keys to The Kingdom, there’s no hotline to the Vatican; it’s just a lot of talking over beverages and maybe a snack-tray.
The impact of Law’s past ineptitude is still being felt locally. Criminal charges remain under consideration, but Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly has been too busy lately producing political opinions and soundbites about the employment of University of Massachusetts President William M. Bulger (whose fugitive brother remains an ongoing embarrassment). The air surrounding the Boston diocese is still, stagnant, and in need of a few sprays of deodorizer. We'll see how O'Malley does. I’ll miss the blonde spokeswoman... [Note: AG Reilly announced 7-23-03 that he wouldn't pursue the charges. Creepy.]
A local hero was wounded in battle recently. Like soldiers in Iraq facing potentially deadly conflict after someone said the war was over, an alleged (sic) victim of clergy abuse (who settled his suit against the Boston diocese, yet remains an outspoken advocate for unsettled others) took a walk along a waterfront with a friend, became separated for a couple of minutes, and was subsequently found floating face-down in the water. Lord, hear our prayers. The war isn't over. The hero was pulled out of the water, spent a couple of days in a coma, and is now out of the hospital. He thinks he was hit or took a hard fall. Time will tell in its time.
Our Lady apparitions share the Catholic theater program with cherished icons, bones of saints, slivers of the true Cross of Christ and wonderfully fantastic artifacts like the Shroud of Turin and the recently marketed ancient ossuary (bone-box) inscribed with the names: James, Joseph and Jesus.
The marketing testifies to our ongoing predilections. A Catholic bishop chose chump with his saucy support of a French viewpoint that the inscription was cohesive and there were no gross errors in spelling, grammar, and workmanship. Premature exultation; it’s a Catholic thing. The ossuary went to Canada for a time (broken in the process), however the Canadian government continues weaving Bob, gets better with practice, and other than putting out a snack-tray and displaying the ossuary, didn’t advance our understanding of the claim much beyond the obvious (that artifacts get damaged on international air flights). The shekel stopped with the Israeli Antiquities Commission and their final call: out. A further investigation will explore the local Israeli antiquities market for increased ATM activity. A prior view describes the bone-box as a cool and genuine artifact from Pharisaic times, which may have been inscribed “James, the son of Joseph,” with “the brother of Jesus” being added sometime over the last decade or three, and which will probably be revealed as just an old bone-box with a some new graffiti (read: fraudulent inscriptions). Relics aren't what they used to be. [Note: And neither are forgers; he was just busted.]
Still, great Catholic minded works continue to appear and opening another window is always better than using a spray. A substantial chunk of America has heard mention of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s best-selling new book, a goodly number of book consumers have paid with their attentions, and other book consumers are keeping Elaine Pagels’ Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (New York: Random House, 2003) charting four out of the last five weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Make it so, Prof. Pagels! And 40% off cover price is always a good thing!
That amateur (lay) interest in early Christianity continues is reassuring. Many faiths don't tolerate general interest and open discussion. Tommy has been a fan-favorite from the start. As Didymos Judas, the twin, Tommy was doubting the politeness of sticking one’s fingers in the gaping wound of another when others are engaged in a fish dinner and has been fondly regarded with a great apocryphal tale of high adventure set in India. Another ancient work bears his name, though there's little narrative structure. The so-called Gospel of Thomas is an engaging gnostic work which was probably written before one or more of the four canonical gospels. Life just seems a little better, somehow, when a book about Tommy makes the bestseller lists. And when the Supreme Court issues a majority opinion regarding homosexual activities and our basic right to privacy, few would attempt to script a better passion play about modern Catholicism.
A couple of hours afterwards, the Rev. Jerry Falwell commented on the Supreme Court opinion and said that it was time for privacy laws to be modernized and reflect the sanctity of personal moments behind closed doors enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. He admitted that it’s okay for married couples to play anal or oral, as long as no one gets hurt. He then claimed this was going to open the door for heroin and cocaine legislation. I’m sure I’ve never felt this way before: Lord, hear Rev. Falwell’s prayers! Many predict it'll encourage a homosexual amendment to our Constitution.
Aquinas discussed unnatural sex (non-procreational lust) and seems to proffer homage to Onan, the Barbarian, holding the line that any behavior that doesn’t assist in the creation of another Catholic is a waste and an affront before God. Medieval Jewish commentators were much more fair. As long as a man’s wife was conscious (no quickies while she sleeps), they were free to engage in anal, oral and other play, so long as they exercise moderation, don’t make it a habit, and don’t enjoy the extra-play too much. Apparently, Rev. Falwell thinks the same way. Catholics, however, have always been keen on the sowing of seed and against any spillage whatsoever. Or so they claim.
Displaying casual courage and common sense, a federal district court has refused to dredge up Roe V. Wade because the one-time carnival worker who’d previously given up kids for adoption and served as the anonymous ‘Jane Roe’ in the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, became a Catholic and staunch anti-abortion critic ten years ago and has changed her personal position on some issues. Though I generally support Catholic endeavors, I’m relieved that they lost this one. One group does not have the right to tell other groups how to behave, what they can and can not do in the privacy of their own homes as long as the rights of others are being upheld, and what decision a person can make about their body which doesn’t directly have an impact on others (that is, society). Falwell called it correctly. Privacy laws will be redefined soon. Lord, hear out prayers. Gen. Wesley K. Clark (Ret., Army), a possible presidential candidate, is pro-choice and doesn't have a problem with gays in the military. He’ll decide between Dems and Repubs at some point. He's not Catholic, but that's how it goes.
My suspicion that she’s waiting beyond the mare (Kevin Spacey will achieve thespian immortality with his upcoming Bobby Darin), is foam-born and local. My Star Trek inspired universe often agrees with the universality of Catholicism and there are moments (read: many moments) when I’m content with the challenges of The Founders. With reason, free will and Nature’s law, I feel that Catholicism (the one and only “true” game in town) would be best served by learning a few new steps to keep up with convention(s).
The Mary in Milton, MA apparition has been quasi-officially written off and a coeval claim of a fetal image around the corner from the window with the broken moulding and the new squinty perceptions of a cross or another Madonna on a nearby chimney are admittedly creepy, but these folks don’t live that far from me and, as it goes, I ask that they be allowed their alternative thinking, as it doesn’t bother anyone at this time.
In January, my ex-galpal’s mother passed away. When her mom took a turn for the worse, ...I did the Catholic thing and arranged for her mom’s last rites at the hospital. And shortly thereafter, I helped set up the funeral. As her mom had paid good money a couple of decades ago to sponsor a local stained-glass window honoring immigrants, I approached the priest of the church and asked if he’d join the sponsor-woman’s daughter and grandchildren in prayer. He said, “No, thank you.” I’m told that the parish was an initial flash-point for the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, and this replacement priest had been brought in as a healer. He presented himself as an old military chaplain (Ret., Air Force) and was smug in his decision to not have any time for a daughter of a past sponsor whose baptized offspring don’t happen to currently buy into Catholic mythology. He smiled awfully and said that there are those who believe and those who don’t. It never occurred to me that an old guy would refuse to pray with kids. First, some kids get sexually abused and later others get the bum’s rush. Huh? I believe the old priest is retiring any day now, good riddance, and I hope the next guy with a clerical collar to handle the local parish understands that compassion begins at home.
My interest in what Jesus drank is not strictly hypothetical. Nurturing (read: putting up with) a four and a half month old kitten from Dorchester would bring out the thirst in anyone. Yet, odd antics and poor behavior aside, over the last couple of days I’ve noticed signs of cat replacing kitten. Cat licks and meows, feline independence and confidence, and an emergence of a bed and bathroom buddy has made dealing with stolen cigarettes a little easier. Not that I’m going to encourage tobacco abuse by a minor kitten and contract the Beacon Hill “Cat Lady” to represent me with the MSPCA. Nope. It means keeping ashtrays just out of reach. If only more problems could be solved as easily.
I'm thinking Jesus would support
the luxury tax on beer,