Friday, August 11, 2006

Leon in Winter

Catholic childhood indoctrination is strong. For a number of reasons, adult attachment can be very strong, too.

I haven't gone to a Catholic Mass in four years, feel no need to do, quite the contrary. Still, I follow the shenanigans at the Vatican and in the American hierarchy, for which I used to work, much like Trotsky watching from Mexico the revolution in the Kremlin gone Stalinist -- without Leon's cachet or his famous mistresses.

People ask why I care and I don't have a easy answer. Perhaps the old Loyola epigram is true: "give me a boy at the age of seven and I give you the man." My strongest formative influences were celibate, vowed men.

For others, there's also cultural Catholicism, which is more or less the notion that one's grandparents were Catholic and in one's family "we've always done this." This is limited to baptisms, first communions, confirmation, weddings and burials; to manners and genteel words and even the occasional charity.

This never exerted much of a pull for me. Celibate vowed men leave family traditions behind. "Let the dead bury the dead," Jesus told a would-be follower who wanted to bury his father before following him.

For me there was always a truth kernel in the gospel that resonated, indeed resonates. What must be done is very clear and simple, if only I would dare: feed the hungry, give to drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. Tell the truth, respect what belongs to others, ignore other people's wealth, nurture and protect life. Little or nothing about churchgoing or Bible reading.

Most of us complicate it with theologies, exceptions and fancy dancing that allow us to temporize while we enjoy our dollar-driven, consumption-directed lives and pretend that we are really taking the gospel's simple imperatives seriously.

What's specifically Catholic about this? That I am not the arbiter, the interpreter or much less the transmitter. That the truth is the truth, whether I like it or not. That even the pope can't unsay it.

I am a philosophical absolutist with all the doubts and scant few certitudes of an agnostic. If there is a God, it's not up to me to define God or agree with what God wants done.

There probably isn't a God. Here all of us who temporize and avoid what God wants of us can sign on the dotted line: we're unbelievers. If there were a God and we believed that, we would be seriously concerned about what God wants (and how little of it we fulfill).

Yet something keeps tugging, something keeps urging: somewhere there is a good that has my name on it for me to do. And I had nothing to do with it being there. All I can do is find it and embrace it, or find it and walk away.
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