Monday, June 4, 2012

Thank God for Some Priests! - The Reluctant Psychoanalyst goes to Mass

Tonight I took communion at a Catholic mass for the second time in my life. As I have blogged before, the first time was a mistake. I assumed when invited that the Catholic Church, like the Episcopal Church, accepted all in the communion ceremony. Not so, I discovered afterwards, much to my chagrin. I am glad that I did it, however. My then twelve year old son went to Mass shortly after that with his mother - a mass to celebrate the anniversary of his Catholic grandfather's death. John, as naive as I, and recognizing the ceremony because it so closely mirrored the Episcopal communion, participated in it. But then he was told (as I discovered on a web sight after my gaffe) that Catholics do not offer mass to non-Catholics to prevent them from going to hell. The logic, such as it is, being that not believing in the substantiation, non-Catholic believers would be damned for not strictly following the rite. I was glad to be able to inform John that I would be right there beside him if that turned out to be the case.



Tonight we went to mass. An open air mass in one of the many poor parts of Managua - at a center that has a large outdoor sanctuary covered with a tin roof and with a mural at the head of the sanctuary that depicts the revolution. The center also has classrooms and other spaces that support the teaching of music, dance, and computer skills for little or no cost to the neighborhood children. The choir for the mass played the instruments they had learned at the school - guitar, marimba, and recorder, and sang beautifully - wonderful, joyful folk songs with soaring melodies and punctuated, in the final song, by gleeful and spontaneous shouts as the congregation clapped along.

But it was the homily that got me. The priest, preaching in a poor neighborhood in Managua, taught a sophisticated lesson that started out by describing the feast of the trinity, which we were celebrating, as an important part of the pedagogy of the church - a structure he explained, that distinguished the Roman Catholic liturgy from that of the Evangelicals (a group, we had been told earlier in the day, that has grown from 10% of the Nicaraguan population - the other 90% of whom used to be Catholic 30 years ago - to 30 or 35% today). He then went on to explain that the trinity, which is a very hard concept to understand, was the result of a reconciliation between a group of heresies in the fourth century and therefore does not fit neatly into the church calendar of lent, christmas, easter, etc. that St. Paul had developed.

As he started to describe God the father, he started to get delightfully derailed. He explained that God the father needs to be considered God the mother because of all the maternal aspects of God - that God the mother and father - Oh, and while he's on the subject, Nicaragua's mother's day (celebrated two days ago) and the month long lead up to it - with all the imploring of people to buy gifts for their mothers - must be an indication of the tremendous guilt that Nicaraguans feel towards their Mothers. (He went on about this for significantly longer than I am going to devote to it here, but let it be known that this intriguing, psychoanalytically rich insight was just a prelude... and that it indicated that thoughtful people here recognize and articulate the contradictions in the culture - that they are attuned to their local collective unconscious and are not afraid to speak about it.) He eventually noted that he might get off the track if he continued (Indeed he already had, but thank God for that).

He then argued, quite cogently, that a maternal God needs to love all those that he has created. He cited the cardinal who chose not to be the present pope, an Italian cardinal who, because he had Parkinson's stepped aside in the most recent election. But this Cardinal, whose Parkinson's is so advanced he is in a wheelchair, confronted the Pope within the past week when the Pope came to his city, saying to him that in this, the fiftieth year of Vatican II, we need to be reshaping the church in the ways that Vatican II should have done - to reshape it structurally - that this could have avoided a series of recent scandals in the Vatican (here, my colleagues informed me, he was likely referring to some shady Vatican bank dealings). Further the Cardinal, and by extension, the priest, maintained that this maternal God is surely embracing homosexuals. And that the Church should be managing the relationships between homosexuals by sanctioning/sanctifying their relationships - not turning their backs on them and their wish to express their love! He was saying this in Managua! In front of God and whoever might walk by this Church! Why is this not being talked about in my country - the home of the free and the brave?

He then went on to say that the Trinity was a way of integrating aspects of God that are inconsistent with each other but necessarily integral - his second analytic insight of the night. An insight about the functioning of a Deity that reflects the functioning of the people that we see in analysis (and in life more generally), the people like Daniel Ortega, about whom I blogged yesterday, who are apparently incredibly internally inconsistent, and yet still human. But then the priest offered an integrative interpretation of the trinity that could be characterized in this way: Don't sweat the small stuff. God is about love. And love is about community. You cannot love in isolation, you must be in community with those around you. Connect, love.

He then invited all to come to communion. I came. Not just in solidarity with my son, but with all the people in this parish, and with all the people within the church who recognize that the Pope, though burdened with the leadership of the Church, is still human. He is internally divided. He, though he may not know it, is uncertain. And the Church, which is of the people, needs to be in communion with those people. And those people are a vast complex people who are struggling, despite and through their complexity, to do a simple thing - to love - a simple thing that, because of our complexity, is very difficult to do. And the church should help us facilitate the expression of that love. By embracing and explaining our complexity - by growing with us as we learn more and more about that complexity - wrestling alongside us as we explore a vast unknown area that is exciting and new - the Church should not be retreating behind platitudes and trying to return to a simplified world view that worked in the past but is no longer capable of keeping up in its prior form with a world that is evolving. This priest, it seems to me, is standing in front of his congregation and struggling - along with them, not at them - to understand this evolving world. I felt privileged to be in communion with he and his congregation.

In fact, I want this priest to come to America, to take over the presidency of my Jesuit University, and - even if he is a little scattered - not nearly as smooth or polished as my own president - I want him to take on the bishop. To tell him that it is love - not rules - that should guide this - and every other Catholic organization. If we agree on that, we can work on figuring out the details - and recognize that we will make mistakes along the way.

What is remarkable to me is that this sophisticated, if scattered, argument is being made before a group of people that has lived and breathed scandal, corruption, the failings of their heroes, but also the need to have a relationship with heroes whose feet are deep in layers of muck, that allow the principles - including the ability to call the heroes out - to be expressed. This is a chaotic, economically poor, but spiritually and politically rich and complicated nation that is worthy of our attention. This is a priest and a people who are not afraid of hell, because they have lived through it. Unlike the president of my University, who would martyr himself before the faculty and staff to serve the Pope, this priest is willing to martyr himself to the Pope to serve his people. That is a priest I can understand, resonate with, and fear for.

Post script: After writing this, I wondered whether it is the president of my University that I am angry with or whether it is myself. Whether I am complacent and therefore not articulating the complexity of what I am confronted with in my lived life. It is, perhaps, in addition to my president, I myself who does not have the courage to be as articulate as this priest and to publicly wrestle with the complexities of life.

To access a narrative description of other posts on this site, link here.   For a subject based index, link here.

Additional posts about this trip to Nicaragua can be found here:
Anticipating Travel to a Third World Country  Preparing for Nicaragua
Fear and Loathing in Nicaragua First day in Nicaragua
In The Hall of the Incest King Daniel Noriega and Day two in Nicaragua
Dora Maria Tellez Day four in Nicaragua
Talking with Peasants about Birth Control Day Five in Nicaragua
Talking Business in Nicaragua Day Six in Nicaragua
Nicaragua on the Couch Processing the trip as a whole


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