If Today You Hear My Voice

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It is nine o’clock on Sunday morning, and I am not at Mass.  For over twenty years, I have attended Mass at a small chapel about fifteen minutes from my house. It is not a large congregation, maybe 150 members in all. This morning I miss them, people who have been there for me in the darkest of times and the brightest. I would often sit in the back, looking at them, pondering their faith and how it has brought them through all that they have witnessed in their lifetimes. This gave me strength on those Sundays I sat there wondering how I was ever going to make it to next Sunday.

But today I cannot be there with them. I have logged on  too many mornings to read about the Catholic leadership’s tolerance of convicted pedaphiles wearing the roman collar and their sexual abuse of children. I have read of the legalistic quibbling by the Catholic leadership -  the same sort of quibbling, noted The Economist, “which greatly angered an itinerant preacher in Palestine two millennia ago.”  I have read of the victims’ lives tormented by alcohol abuse, drug abuse, years of therapy, years of serious depression. I have read about  little deaf boys  locked in closets in Wisconsin with priests who told them they were asked by God to teach the little boy about sex, and here we go now…….. Little Deaf Boys.

It was when I read that account that I started to hear this voice, at first just a mumbling, in the corners of my mind.  In time, I  realized I could not be deaf to this voice as it was very persistent. As I read more, the voice became clearer, more pronounced. I started to open my heart to this voice and found I was being asked to go somewhere that, at first, I was very afraid to go. I was told not to be afraid. It would not be a life without faith; in fact, it would be a life with a faith that will envelope my heart.

But to get there, I must leave the Catholic Church. I must leave my chapel. For when I am in the presence of priests, I do not have  – and I have tried very hard-  but I  cannot have – a spiritual experience because  I am  so angry.  When the priest walked down the center aisle at our chapel last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I wanted to call out to him to turn around and go back to his rectory.  I visualized chasing him out of the church, out of the parking lot, running after him down the road,  just like that itinerant  preacher who chased  them all out of the temple.  They are an abomination.

To be honest,  I am still  frightened where this journey will take me, but I must. I must break away from the Catholic Church and trust in this voice- this voice that has steadfastly assured me that just in this act itself, the first Sunday I do not go to Mass,  I will come to understand  that my faith in Him has never been stronger.

It is nine o’clock on the next Sunday morning, and, again, I am not at Mass.

I am thinking about the Trinity: the father, the son, the holy ghost. In my reflections on my relationship with God, I have spent a lot of time thinking about who God is. Who is this voice that is speaking to me? This week, I have found myself drawn to the Trinity, and I have come to understand how these three aspects of God  - each in their own way – lay their hands on my life.

The father.  He is our creator, but he is not a micro-manager, for he gave us free will.  He could insist on calling all the shots, but he does not, for he trusts in our inherent goodness. After all, he made us, so He knows perfectly well what we are made of. He has counted every hair on your head is one of the most comforting lines in the Bible. He loves us deeply, as we love our own children, but he knows he must let us make our choices, as all parents know of their children.  He was disturbed when his creations thought him a vengeful father, one to be appeased through the sacrifice of his own creations. So he sent his son, knowing how we feel about our own sons. And his own son’s life was sacrificed, so we might understand our forgiving father. When the people crucified him, he-and his son- forgave them all. This is an amazing story.

And sometimes I pray to the father for guidance in using this free will he has given me, just as I would call upon my parents for guidance in making difficult decisions. And when a situation is out of my control, as are so many, I put it – in faith- I put it into his hands. ..as we all hope our children would bring their insurmountable problems home to  us.

The son.  He became one of us and he devoted his life to teach us about his father. He taught us about loving our neighbor. He taught us about including outsiders. He taught us about prayer. He taught us about forgiveness, humility, compassion,  patience, and service to the least of our brothers and sisters.   There are many stories reflecting these qualities which have been told and retold for two thousand years now.  His life is part of that amazing story, but I find myself drawn to reading about him from a woman’s perspective through the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

And sometimes I pray to Jesus when I am challenged by this world of humanity as I believe he will understand my plight since he walked around here with us. This is why God had his son made flesh – to give us this credible path to him. God understood this. Without the life of Jesus, I would wonder if God could ever understand me. But I know he can, for he watched his own son wrestle with his own humanity. When you watch your child wrestle with something, you doubly wrestle with it yourself.

The Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost. Some say this one scares them; this  one gives me the most comfort, for I have felt him descend upon me. When I do not have the strength to carry on, and then I am lifted up   – it is the Holy Ghost. When I want to give up and go home, but I carry on – this is the Holy Ghost. When I witness an act of kindness between other people in the course of my day, and I see so many, the Holy Ghost is present, directing my vision and my full comprehension  and appreciation of the act.  When I am presented with the chance to do some good, and am able to do it, it is the Holy Ghost standing by my side.  When I walked around my garden on this wet Sunday morning and I felt the presence of the spirit, this was the Holy Ghost. We are quite close, me and this ghost.

So that is the Trinity. When I began this venture of faith, I thought – I was afraid – that I was alone. Now there are four of us, and I find that I am in very good hands.

It is nine o’clock on another Sunday morning, and I am not at Mass.

Instead, I have pulled out one of  my old  textbooks . When I was studying the history of the English language,  Dr.Holiskey put this on the screen and asked  the class if we could figure out what we were looking at.

Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum si þin nama gehalgod tobecume þin rice gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us to dæg and forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge ac alys us of yfele soþlice.

It turned out to be the Our Father as it looked 450 – 1100.  Then she showed us the same prayer from 1384. The first sound in the third word, which sort of looks like pat, is a P but is pronounced th. (pat is that) (pi is thy).

Oure fadir þat art in heuenes halwid be þi name;

þi reume or kyngdom come to be.

Be þi wille don in herþe as it is doun in heuene.

yeue to us today oure eche dayes bred.

And foryeue to us oure dettis þat is oure synnys as we foryeuen to oure dettouris þat is to men þat han synned in us.

And lede us not into temptacion but delyuere us from euyl.

Clearly, it is starting to look like the prayer known so well by so many today. However, this morning is not a reflection on the history of the English language but an attempt to grasp what these words mean in that they have been repeatedly called upon by our ancestors in times of joy and times of sorrow for nearly two thousand years.

Our Father who art in heaven

In my previous reflection on the Trinity, I came to understand the role of the father through my own experience as a parent. My own father is in heaven, and I pray to him  often. When I am missing him in my life, the first six words of this prayer on a Sunday morning  could  bring tears to my eyes, for I was wishing that he were still here with me, fantasizing that when I arrived home after Mass I could call him up and have a chat. How divine that would be! This is evidence of the enormous love all children have for their fathers and helps me to understand the love that is also within me for God the Father in the Trinity.

Hallowed be thy name

To hallow means to make something sacred. Synonyms for sacred are holy, blessed, consecrated, revered, sacrosanct. We only know God the Father by this one name  -Father. My father was also Mr. O’Dea to some, Arthur to others, Dad to some of his  children, Pop to others, and he was Judge to yet others.  But the only name I have for this part of the Trinity is God, the Father. “ Father”  is sacred. I have witnessed a father’s love in the relationship that my sons have with my husband, and it is a beautiful thing to see. My sons revere their father.  I must spend more time thinking about God the Father and his role in my life. God the Father  has been there for me, just as my own father is there for me when I call upon his memory. I have yet to  fully recognize His role – His love-  in my life. Funny, but isn’t this the way with all fathers?

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

Fathers have visions. Mine did.  He worked at it  every day to make his visions (he had a couple) a reality. His kingdom was his children; his family. We are God’s children; we are his kingdom.  We can make his vision a reality -for this father who loves us – by doing his will. That is the hard part. We do not always want to do what our fathers tell us to do.

Give us this day our daily bread

For some in this world, for some who have whispered this prayer, – I can only imagine – this is a real plea for food. For others, it is a call for the thin wafer received in communion with your congregation.  God gives us the bread of life which feeds our souls. Our daily bread is not always  in the form of a wafer; this bread comes in the myriad of  ways that the spirit chooses to descend upon us. However, Jesus did ask us to break bread in memory of Him; this can also be done in a myriad of meaningful ways. A Tuesday morning women’s prayer group I was invited to attend next week breaks bread in communion. I am looking forward to this. If truth be told, I miss communion.

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us

This word seems to have seen the most revision in the two versions of this prayer that I started with. Gyltas and gyltendum (guilt) were used in 450,  while dettouris and synned (debtors/sin) took their place around 1384. These are all in the same “semantic field” – another thing my gifted professor taught me about.

To trespass is to intrude. I try not to intrude. I endeavor to enable those I love to reach their dreams. I am a mother and my friends are mothers. I have volumes of evidence that a mother is the most forgiving person on the face of this earth. One of my favorite writers, John McPhee, wrote a beautiful essay about his mother called Silk Parachute. No matter how he mistreated her as a child, disappointed her as a boy, misled her as teen, used her as an adolescent, in other words – no matter how hard he whacked his mother in his treatment of her over his tumultuous years of growing up, she floated back down to him, moving gracefully toward him, always surrounding him in her love like a beautiful soft white silk parachute.  Forgive me when I do intrude, and you are already forgiven for any intrusion into my life.  I know it is out of love for me. I know. I am a mother.

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil

Devils and Evil. There are devils out there.  This prayer ends in a plea to help me see the devils coming, to help me to deny their empty promises, to help me  keep on the high ground…but not so high, dear God, my dear Father, my own dear father,  that I cannot see others struggling, understand their struggles, and not so high that my hand cannot reach them  - touch them – and hold them-  to help them. I never want to be on such high ground as that.

Amen.

It is nine o’clock on yet another Sunday morning, and I am getting into it.

I have reflected on the Trinity and God the Father.  Today I want to think about Jesus, the Son of God, God made Flesh, our Good Shepherd.  It is the life Jesus led, what he said, and what he did  that speak to me.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Let someone in this crowd who has not sinned throw the first stone.  Forgive them for they know not what they do.  

He told us to treat the people around you the way you yourself want to be treated. This can be hard because I want people to have all the time in the world for what I care about, which means I have to give others all the time in the world for what they care about. This can get complicated, never mind exhausting. So I think the answer to this conundrum starts with me and my expectations of others. I must not expect so much of others, for it is in giving that we receive. We have the perfect give to give – the gift of time.   A good friend  from my chapel  with whom I  shared what I  am going through suggested that  I call so-and-so from my chapel, as so-and-so is a theologian, and maybe she could help me. I called her, we met at Starbucks soon after and  we talked for at least an  hour. She had time for me. She listened. She helped. Now, she is a friend.  Isn’t this exactly what Jesus meant?  I try to do this with my sons when they call me with their litanies of struggles – as all mothers do- and not expect any thing in return. ( Oooooh — that is hard, especially on  Mother’s day, as it is today. )  I try to do this at work when my desk is covered with tasks to do and a student or colleague knocks on my door and obviously needs to talk.  I try.

Let someone in this crowd who has not sinned throw the first stone. This is thorny as I have recently indicted every single cleric in the RC church for the way they have treated victims of abuse and they way they have covered up for each other.   I did not throw a stone at them: I buried them under boulders of granite.  I know myself; I can take it for a long time, but if it goes on, I get mad.  And it isn’t pretty. But then I think of Jesus and the hissy fit he threw at the Temple when all the vendors were there selling their stuff. He threw them out. Anger is appropriate at times….and sooner or later I calm down, as I hope I will so I can return to Mass. But this will take time…and that voice has given me this gift of time!

Forgive them for they know not what they do.  Parents say this to themselves a lot. Children, when growing up, do not know what they do.  As I move through life I think more and more about how I treated my parents, or I should say, mistreated my parents, when I was growing up and not understanding the effect of what I did – and worse, what I did not do. When I was a freshman in college, my mother came to pick me up one Friday afternoon, as I wanted to go home for the weekend.  She was parked at the door of my dorm, Seton Hall, which was also the exact spot where she first met my father.  That scene must have held so many memories for her, of which at the time I was oblivious. I was way over my head in my own relationship at the time. Anyway, when I got into the car, I saw my mother had no teeth. She had a scarf over her head and she had draped the scarf over her mouth so no one would see.  But I did, and I asked her about it. She explained that she was getting false teeth and they would not be ready till next week, so she would look like this till then. She placed the scarf over her mouth again, put the car in gear, and we drove away. On the ride home, about an hour, I said little as I was completely buried in my own set of problems and concerns.  I wanted silence, but Mom wanted something else. When we got  home, she made a terse remark that I could have chatted a bit  more, that I could  have shown more compassion for  her situation. I was stunned. I had no idea she needed me like that, but I realized that  I should have known that. Forgive them for they know not what they do. I try not to make demands on my children, and I try to say nothing when they forget, for I do not want them to ever feel the pain that I feel when I remember that day in the car with my mother.  What I would give to have that one afternoon back with her!

This takes me to the end of this reflection on Jesus.  For if he were here with me now, wouldn’t he console me?  Jesus had a mother, too. He annoyed her terribly when he ran off at 12 to be about his father’s work.   Perhaps he only understood the depths of her pain long after she watched him carry that cross.  Perhaps.  And so this is what my Jesus is. The part of God, the Trinity, that as human flesh knows our pains and our burdens. He tells us to forgive ourselves and he washes away our tears. He showed us that we all sin, as no stones were thrown. He tells us to try again and again and again to treat others the way you want to be treated.    And if others fail to do this for you, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I have been looking forward to this Sunday morning all week, as it is time to think about the Holy Ghost. …(what a name!)

The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.   When I studied linguistics, I learned about semantic fields.  In the same semantic field as ghost, I find phantom,  spirit, ghoul , specter,   poltergeist, and  banshee. The last is one of my favorites, as it comes from Gaelic folklore,  and  it is the spirit of a woman who appears, wailing, to signal that somebody in the household is going to die.  This strays far from my understanding of the Holy Ghost. Spirit, as in Holy Spirit, however, comes much closer to the mark, for in spirit’s semantic field I find an astonishing list of words including:   will, strength of mind, force, fortitude, moral fiber, determination, chutzpah, heart, and mettle, strength, courage, character, and, last but not least,  guts.

My, oh my!  No wonder I have felt this spirit move so powerfully through me when I have called upon God for some assistance.  Look what he is made of!  Sometimes  this power descends upon me when I have not asked something of it, but it is expecting something of me.  As I grow older it is harder to deny, for it has evolved into  a two way street. I call on the spirit and the spirit is there for me, and when that same spirit calls on me, I will be there for the spirit. This is not always easy.

Guts. Literally, my guts are my insides, my essential parts. Figuratively, my guts is my backbone, my moral fiber – my soul.  I like to think I have some guts. When I am facing a difficult decision, I call upon the Holy Ghost to guide me.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was spending the better part of a summer’s day in a place called Castle Hackett. There was no castle there, so yes, as you may have already guessed, I was in Ireland. The whole of  Ireland at one time was a forest.  However, now there are very few trees there  as somewhere in her history they were all cut down by an Englishman, Cromwell, I believe.  But once in a while in her countryside, you come across trees, and maybe it is just me, but I always feel a sacred presence when I am among the trees in Ireland. This is due entirely to that day in Castle Hackett, for that was the first time I was with trees in Ireland. It was just a moment, but the breeze was blowing- gently, but blowing –  through the  leaves in the trees, and it seemed to be talking to me and telling me that  I was – just for a moment, folks, – I was where this Holy Spirit calls home – I was in heaven.

Van Morrison sings a song about walking under the magnetized leaves in the forest. In this song he talks about two truths: what we believe and what lies hidden in our hearts. He sings about a village on the mountain top, too small to be a town. When I hear this song, I am transported back to Castle Hackett. For there are two truths: there is what we believe, that we are to forgive (Forgive them for they know not what they do. ) and there is what lies hidden in our hearts (I will never forgive so and so for such and such.  Somewhere in the breeze I trust that I will find the  will, strength of mind, force, fortitude, moral fiber, determination, chutzpah, heart, and mettle, strength, courage, character, and, last but not least,  guts – to forgive.

When I first began this journey, a friend suggested I talk to another friend, whom I met at Starbucks over coffee, and after talking with me – and really listening to me – she suggested a couple of books, one being Practicing Catholic by  James Carroll.  As it turned out, Mr. Carroll was once a priest, a Paulist.  He spent his first year studying at the same Paulist Novitiate in northern New Jersey where my father had also studied to be a priest around 1930.  My father left at the close of his first year there,  while Mr. Carroll went on to complete his studies in Washington D.C.  This was during the 1960s; Mr. Carroll did not leave the priesthood until 1975. He is now married, has two children, and he is a writer.

I found his story compelling. For the first time, I understood why my father chose to be a Paulist. I now understand why my father  would lecture us every evening over dinner during the sixties on the writings of Teilhard de Chardin.  I was only 10 in 1964, and although I did not understand all that was changing in the Catholic Church, I knew Vatican II was big. After reading Carroll, I now understand why Vatican II was embraced so by my father.  In Vatican II the church was given back to the people, and perhaps the clearest manifestation of that is that the Mass was to be said in the language of the people, which for me would be English. I know the power of language; so does Mr. Carroll.

This is perhaps why the final chapter in his book is called a Writer’s Faith.   Like me, he had also thought of seeking another religion, but in his journey he realized that Catholicism is his syntax. Ditto on that.  He quoted another writer who said “Art begins in a wound” and he realized that in order to order the chaos he saw around himself, he created his own form and structure, through meter, rhyme, and the epiphanies of mental freedom. I hope it is not too bold for me to say that I have felt these same little epiphanies as I sat here on Sunday mornings and reflected on the Trinity in terms I could understand through my own experiences as a woman, a wife, a mother, and a friend.

Carroll talks of a friend whose infant son died from suffocation in his crib, and the local monsignor would not allow the child’s funeral to be in a catholic church because the father had left his first wife and remarried.  Carroll asks if our God is one who wants only to obeyed. Is our God one who knows nothing of human suffering?  In whose name, a child can be abandoned?

IN WHOSE NAME, INDEED.

No.  And with this thought Carroll moves from being a submitter to authority to being a possessor of it.  Simultaneously, though, he states that  he could not condemn that monsignor without condemning something of himself because we are all sinners.  We all seek forgiveness.  “This truth will set you free. First, it will break your heart, but the truth is what counts.

And what the genius knows is that there is no genius.  Aren’t most of us uneasy  around people who think they  have all the answers? Classical symbols, like my beloved Trinity, were invented over time.  We accept them due to their meaning. The Trinity itself , which Carroll uses as an example,  affirms that community is fundamental to being.

COMMUNITY – HOW I HAVE MISSED MY COMMUNITY

Human beings invent symbols that instinctively respond to that innermost life in all of us.  This mystery we call God and this mystery continually recalls  us to the limits of ourselves and lays bare our guilt…and yet, YET,  bids us approach, and enfolds us in ultimate love. In this, Carroll tells us,  is the meaning of God’s existence.

In the Catholic imagination, he goes on, our syntax is the stuff of life. Water is in our baptism, bread and wine is in our Mass,  oil is in our anointing of the sick, sex is in matrimony,  words are in absolution, and touch in the hands of confirmation. If Catholicism is my syntax, these are my parts of speech.

Carroll tells the interesting story of  Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel On one wall is the Creation, but on the other is The Last Judgment.  When the Pope who commissioned The Last Judgment first saw the painting, he fell to his knees and said “Lord, charge me not with my sins when Thou shalt come on the day of Judgment.” Michelangelo makes very clear that the Lord will do just that.  He was on to them way back in 1534. Carroll tells us that as Jews were rounded up in 1943 under the silent pope, the then Grand Inquisitor, Caraffa, demanded that The Last Judgment be removed from the walls of the chapel.  Conscious stricken Paul III overruled him, but he did require that the genitals of naked figures be covered up, creating  what is now called “the underpants painters”. They are fooling no one but themselves here. The Last Judgment stands in its rightful place.

As I walked beside Mr. Carroll on his journey, I wondered where he was leading me. Often I wanted to peek at the last page but I did not. When I finally got there, I heard this. That to be a member of this community is to stand openly in need of forgiveness, which is why every Mass begins with a penitential prayer.  Here we are invited to put this burden down. That the church is sinful is why we can feel at home in it. We, like Michelangelo,  must seize every opportunity to demand its purification. Its reform….and forgiveness is the condition of change. Our church must evolve. Our church must change.  And we must take responsibility for this vision.

Back to Mass

I finished his book midweek, and I was able to go to Mass with my husband on Saturday evening. When I arrived, I was stunned to realize that it was the vigil of the Pentecost, and that my friend, the Holy Spirit, was being celebrated.  Pentecost is the feast of language and language is WORDS.  “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God.”  Carroll explains that God is language. God is tongues. God is words afire.  The Tower of Babel  –  the word itself so close to Bible, as Mr. Carroll astutely points out.

Through language we create meaning, for it is through language that strangers, speaking strangely, discover each other as friends. Words are the tools of the writer, but words are not the purpose of writing.  The purpose of writing is meaning. And meaning, (What does it mean, Mrs. Boland?), that is where I find my God.

Since Easter morning, I have been on a journey that required the reexamination of my faith. Leaving the small chapel I had attended for the past twenty years, I was holding back my tears. It would be a while before I could return to that close-knit community because, quite simply, I could not stomach priests.  I indicted every one of them for the despicable behavour of the catholic clergy.  I did not know where this reexamination would lead me, but there was a voice coming from deep within me that I trusted as my guide.

I am a catholic. My mother, raised on a potato farm that straddled the border between Maine and Canada, was Catholic, but she had little regard for priests and nuns. People who grow up on farms are, by nature, pragmatic. But my mother’s disregard for clergy interested me, as  before my father met my mother, he had spent a year or two studying to be a priest at a Paulist novitiate located in northwest New Jersey. Dad always wore a scapula around his neck and over his bed hung a cross of highly polished black wood – but without the figure of Christ on it.  My parents, married in 1933, had five children in the first ten years of marriage, and then in 1954 I came along.  My father was in his sixties during the sixties, the decade I came of age.  On so many of those nights, Dad prevailed at the dinner table lecturing on Teilhard de Chardin.  I was too young to understand what he was talking about, but it was very clear to me that my father saw a new age rising. He was quite excited about it, too. He even bought a pair of bell bottoms for himself. Mom listened to him at times, but tuned out when she felt like it. Mom was good at that. Pragmatic.

When I began this reexamination of my faith, I was also pragmatic and methodical. I sought the advice of a friend, who suggested I look at three books, suggesting one might help me. Of the three, I decided that Practicing Catholic, by James Carroll, best suited my needs.  James Carroll is ten years older than me. His book details his personal journey of faith, in which he was a priest for ten years before leaving  in 1975. He is now married with children and writes for a living. But here’s the thing. In 1965 James Carroll was studying at the same Paulist novitiate where my father had studied in 1930. Carroll explains his choice to be a Paulist was based on the premise that this order was founded to be a two way highway between the American catholic experience and Rome. We Americans are different from others; from my own work with so many other cultures, I know this to be a fact. The Paulists saw this early on, and realized its significance in the Catholic church.  This small piece of knowledge about the Paulists gave me tremendous insight on my father, and why he would have chosen the Paulists, and why, when he left, he went to law school. And why he was so excited during Vatican II, delivering homilies over dinner about Teilhard, and buying bell bottoms.

Carroll also made clear why m y father left. Growing up, I was only told that he could not have friends there, so he left.  Carroll explained that  at Oak Ridge, seminarians were not allowed to cross the threshold of another seminarian’s  door, as the hierarchy were so afraid of the young men falling in love with each other.  The young men were constantly observed for behavour that showed too much fondness  toward another seminarian. When Dad left, it was with three others. They pooled their funds, bought a car, and drove to California and back together. Friends. Community.

So, I googled Oak Ridge Novitiate discovering  that it now runs retreats organized  by Paulist priests.   I called and left a message as I had decided that my reexamination of faith would come full circle by retreating to this place where my father had studied. It seemed perfect. Maybe when I left, I would even be done.  Healed, so to speak.

You know, I have heard it said that if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.

It was early on a Sunday morning that my phone rang. It was a youngish sounding man on the phone, with a thick New Jersey accent.  He explained that Oak Ridge was no longer in the business of retreats. In fact, Oak Ridge had been sold to the State of New Jersey, all 1175 acres, for 12 million dollars. New Jersey  was to put the land under its Green Acres initiative which serves as a  refuge for unspoiled pristine acreage in New Jersey . But this young man went on to tell me more.   He had served as the property manager of Oak Ridge, and was the only one left there. He was in the process of cleaning out the houses, loading the furniture onto trucks, and sending the stuff off to other Paulist destinations still in service. He explained that when my father was there , he had lived in the one wooden framed structure that had come with the property in 1923 when it had served as a hunting lodge for some wealthy philanthropist who then donated it – lock stock and barrel – to the Paulists.

Oak Ridge stayed like that till 1961, when vocations were streaming in and new buildings were built.  But then vocations started to slack off, and then, he said, “ the pedophile stuff hit”, and soon, with so few vocations, they went into the retreat business.  He was bitter that the decision to sell the place had been made by one man who had consulted no one else.  He read off to me the list of priests buried in the Oak Ridge cemetery who had also served as veterans. He was heading down there after our phone call to put flags on their graves as it was Memorial Day weekend.  This young priest had spent the better part of Saturday packing up a truck with the last of the stuff from the main house.  That stuff, he told me , was headed up to Lake George, where there is another Paulist retreat house. He gave me the number, and suggested I try there.

He was sad to have to tell me this. I could sense that he loved that place, Oak Ridge. There was a pause, and then he continued.  He told me that there has to be change. He said, in his thick New Jersey accent, “Mrs. Boland, they gotta ordain women. BRING IT ON! They gotta let guys like me get married. And, Mrs. Boland, I am not goin’ back to sayin’ the Mass in Latin; I don’t care WHO tells me to. I’m not goin’ back. We gotta move forward.”

I have given his words a great deal of thought and I realize that I must move forward, too. The answer is not in going back to Oak Ridge, as sentimental as that journey could have been.  The answer is in my going to Mass.  The answer is in my lifting my voice at Mass in English. The answer is in my holding my husband’s hand as we recite the Our Father, even though we have been told we cannot do this anymore.  The answer is in claiming my faith to be of the people, for we are the church. And the answer is also in forgiveness, which I must find in my heart.  I had indicted every one of them only to find out that  I was wrong.  For it was when I heard this young priest’s voice in Oak Ridge  that I heard the future of my faith.

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