Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The new pastor preaches an un-American sermon

Despite my best intentions, I've developed a deep and abiding dislike of our new pastor.

When my mother-in-law declared that she couldn't stand the new man, I defended him. Well, that was only his first week on the job. First impressions are hard to undo... but you have to give someone more of a chance than that, especially when it isn't going to be easy to get rid of him.

Because I wanted to keep an open mind, and form my own opinions, I wanted to hear the new pastor himself. I wanted to hear him preach; I wanted to take his measure from his own words, not from disgruntled parking lot rumors.

This turned out to be more difficult that you might think: My wife and I go to the early Mass on Sunday; the new pastor has offered that Mass exactly twice since he started in July. (Gosh, I wonder if my 7:00 a.m. Mass might be on the chopping block? Eh?)

But when he was there, I was prepared to listen.

The first time was inoffensive. Indeed, although he didn't cite his source, the first Homily I heard the man preach drew heavily on Book VIII of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (on friendship). Ah, I thought to myself, here is an educated man, one who has had some exposure to -- and is influenced by -- the Classics. That, I thought, counted in his favor.

But then came last Sunday.

I suppose I should have taken notes, but I'm not in the habit of bringing a pen to Mass. And I had no idea, coming in, what I was in for.

Sunday's Gospel reading was from Luke, the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. And, again, the pastor started out innocently enough -- and with a take on the tale I'd not considered before: When the shifty steward called in his master's debtors and allowed them to write down their notes (in the hopes that he'd be welcomed in their houses after his pending dismissal), the pastor said, he was probably doing no more than writing off his own commission. Well, I thought, that would explain the master's almost bemused take on discovering his steward's actions on his way out the door ("the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently").

I won't pretend to remember exactly how we got from that to the statement that sent me through the roof. But, somehow, he got from this interpretation to this flat statement, "For a Catholic, there is no separation of Church and State."


Of course there is -- that is a bedrock principle of the United States of America, one of the things -- and I'd argue it's the single most important thing -- that has kept us from importing the world's religious wars even as we've imported citizens from every corner of our sorry globe. It is one of the things that makes -- and keeps -- America an exceptional nation (sorry, Mr. Putin, but it is so).

Now, if you want to say that a person should operate in the public sphere according to the morals and values he has learned from his church, I will agree. A person who pretends to profess one set of values at church and who jettisons them on exiting the parking lot of said house of worship is, at best, a hypocrite. That has always been my problem with the "Born Again" crowd of some other Christian sects -- "accepting Jesus Christ" can't be a free pass to Heaven, especially if one proceeds, despite being "saved," to lie, cheat and steal thereafter.

In fact, as I have argued before, it is how we live our lives, not what we preach, and certainly not what our priests and bishops preach, that attracts converts.

I listened carefully to see if the pastor would walk that statement back -- as I have just tried to do -- but he did not.

A priest who doesn't understand that church and state are separate is an Osama bin Laden wannabe. The late, unlamented Osama and the various "Islamist" sects are also contemptuous of the concept of separation of church and state. Religion (according to their own twisted lights) is the ultimate authority. Persons are not free to act in the public sphere according to their consciences which have been formed by their religious beliefs, but, rather, must act according to the dictates of their religious leaders.

That may not be as dangerous as it sounds for most Muslims because Sunni Muslims, the largest sect of that faith, do not have a rigidly structured clerical hierarchy -- although adherents of any number of 'schools' can do (and have done) terrible things, allegedly in the name of their religion, spurred on by the leaders of those 'schools.' But Shiites have imams and ayatollahs that parallel, in many ways, bishops and cardinals in the Roman Church. Thus, with no separation of church and state, the person acting in the public sphere must be guided in all things, not by his conscience, but by the current whim of the Ayatollah -- or of the Cardinal. Or of the pastor?

Actually, Jesus Himself provided a basis for the separation of church and state when He wriggled out of a trap that the Pharisees had set for Him. Matthew and Luke both tell the story: The Pharisees and Herodians (in Matthew's account) asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman state. The Roman occupation was not popular (the Jews frequently rebelled, ultimately resulting in Rome's decision to destroy Jerusalem, and the Jewish Temple, in A.D. 70). If Jesus said that paying Caesar's tax was not lawful he was preaching rebellion against Rome -- and could be dealt with as a political enemy. On the other hand, the Pharisees and Herodians, who collaborated with the Romans, at least when it suited their purposes, calculated that Jesus's popular support would instantly vanish if he said that paying taxes was lawful. You remember how it all worked out: Jesus asked for a coin and, when one was provided asked whose image is on this coin? That is an image of Caesar, came the response. And Jesus said, well, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." (The Catholic Bible uses "repay to" instead of "render unto," but however faithful that translation may be to the original text, "render unto" just sounds so much better in English, at least to my ears.)

Anyway, careful listening to the new pastor's sermon merely drove up my blood pressure. And it occurred to me: The wholly wrongheaded idea that church and state are not separate, and all the picayune, entirely unnecessary changes he's imposing on the distribution of Communion, or at the Sign of Peace, and the meat cleaver he will shortly take to the Mass schedule (despite the pretense of publicly welcoming 'input') -- it all fits together. This man is an Authoritarian-on-Steroids, drunk on his own Authority.

He can either sober up -- or go away -- or watch his large parish become small overnight.

More tomorrow.

1 comment:

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

yikes! no words curmy. nope, none.

smiles, bee