Friday, December 2, 2011

Appointment Number One

Remember the Michael Keaton film Dream Team? It has a wonderful opening that occurs to me as the perfect image to identify the fantasy life of, apparently, the majority of Canadian Catholic bishops.
The movie opens in a mental hospital, with Christopher Lloyd, white-coated like a staff member, carrying a clip-board as he moves from to room taking notes on the patients. It's all very serious for a little while until a real doctor shows up and we realize that good old Chris is actually a patient. A roaring great laugh from the audience, and once again we enjoy the blessings of the talents of a great comic actor.
By now, there are a lot of bishops, priests, religious and grossly undereducated but nonetheless self-confident parish assistants in Canada who are trying to convince themselves and each other that I am just like the character Mr. Lloyd plays in that movie. After all, did I not use the term for one of our cultural high priests, the psychiatrist, in opening post for this series? I call it series because I suspect it's going to take considerable time and effort to bring so many unfortunate minds to their senses, if not their knees. And if I can actually think of myself in a psychiatric capacity without actually having taken a degree, must I not actually be somewhat off my rocker?
Frankly, I have to admit, I have been moved to wonder the same myself. But that was decades ago, and anyone who is by any means a student of John of the Cross, possibly even without actual experience of the dark night, understands that such thoughts are simply the work of the devil, because the mystical life itself is the prize of all spiritual gifts and no just God is going to allow it to be easily won, or easily retained, and is thus obliged to test those to whom it is given. Wondering if you're crazy is only one of the abuses to be suffered.
One of the learned - and experienced - of these souls was the recently beatified John Paul II, my spiritual student from 1984 until 1994. He was not in the Seventh Mansion, but I was, so he was open to conversation, and became, they say, the wiser for it. But not quite wise enough to excommunicate bishops who cluttered their altars with those tedious and spiritually very unsightly young females, mind you, and for this I had to resign my office. All the Vatican knows that the day he got my letter, more or less, is the day he broke his hip.  But the beginning was very, very good, and offered some future hope for the Church, if only because it also led to perhaps the more important result, my becoming known to the man who is Pope now. Benedict and I go back to July of 83, and the imagery I was moved to use even then has a remarkably current relevance: the throat-slitting of the 400 false prophets on the slopes of  Mount Carmel.
In 83, however, I assumed that the image - symbolic rather than literal, of course - applied only to certain Catholic leaders only in Canada. I was aware of some troublesome johnnies in the US, but did not really consider them my business. My principal concerns were Canada and getting a novel finished. (It was then far from being even half done.) Also, even a mystic can take on only so much, and the sex abuse situation of those days, especially in our diocese, was a big enough burden to labour with, or so one would think.
But then it became increasing obvious that even Rome was part of the abuse problem: it gravely lacked a suitable machinery for dealing with the offenders in an expedient manner, clearly a travesty of justice. Those failures have been corrected.
And now it may be possible that it is faltering on the questions of liturgical practice, by insisting, perhaps because of certain lacks of detachment on the part of John Paul, on a power in the liturgy it cannot have in this earthly sphere. Heaven on earth exists only the souls of those granted perfection at the highest practical level. John of the Cross has ceased to become a theory: he is the norm of discernment for questions at this level, and if necessary, Christ may show up in various ways to make sure the Church uses that norm.
The Pope has been warned.
This means everyone else should take heed.

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