This isn't so much an essay as a remembrance of some passages that stand me in good stead when my faith in the servants of God wavers.
There are a couple of books that are sources of strength for those days when fear, despondence and cynicism raise their ugly heads. "To Kill A Mockingbird" is a favorite. Another is from a later era though it tackles themes dating back of the days when warm bodies flitted to and fro the catacombs.
The film never did match the depth of Morris L. West’s novel “The Shoes of the Fisherman”.
Science, rebellion, crime and salvation, power and compassion, rage and redemption -- the story of life, the history of human kind distilled in a work of such integrity it refuses to give us a pat ending.
Our parents taught us about a loving God who understood the difficult choices faced by his children. They introduced us to flawed but compassionate priests. It is to their credit and God's grace that the horrid, tawdry and evil things perpetrated by shepherds of His flock have failed to jar us into letting go of that radiant strip leading up into the promised land.
It is a destination, that land. As old-time Pilgrims know, WHEN isn't as important as HOW.
When shepherds become wolves, when the road to salvation becomes a nightmare, when too many of God's children are sacrificed to the exigencies of power, there is West, with his wry humor and dogged belief in the tenacity of goodness, to prop up wavering faith.
When one begins to wonder, West shines a light on what can be.
And so this passage, from the time of Conclave, when two of the Church's most powerful princes -- the Camerlengo Cardinal Valerio Rinaldi, and the bulldog of the Sacred College, Cardinal Leone -- muse about what-ifs should they be given a chance to live their lives over.
“I’ve thought about it often... If I didn’t marry- and I’, not sure but that’s what I needed to make me halfway human- I’d be a country priest with just enough theology to hear confession, and just enough Latin to get through Mass and the sacramental formulae. But with heart enough to know what griped in the guts of other men and made them cry into their pillows at night. I’d sit in front of my church on a summer evening and read my office and talk about the weather and the crops, and learn to be gentle to the poor and humble with the unhappy ones…
"You know what I am now? A walking encyclopaedia of dogma and theological controversy. I can smell out an error faster than a Dominican. And what does it mean? Nothing. Who cares about theology except the theologians? We are necessary, but less important than we think. The Church is Christ- Christ and the people. And all the people want to know is whether or not there is a God, and what is His relation with them, and how they can get back to Him when they stray.”
Rinaldi:“Large questions, not to be answered by small minds or gross ones.”
Tonight, I go to bed praying for priests with hearts that understand those who cower in the dark.