” WHEN THE END COMES , I KNOW, I’M JUST A GIGOLO “

Imagine listening to a recording of your favorite concerto or symphony (mine is the “New World”). It was superb. You just have to hear it again. So you do. You have, perhaps, never had this experience, but if you had, I think you will agree that you might listen to it a second time, but certainly not a third. At least not right away

I have, on occasion, seen every episode in a Netflix series. Most begin to bore me long before the final episode. But I would never be tempted to replay immediately the series I just completed. When it’s over it’s finished.

We should not regret that when our life ends, it’s over, finished. “Finis coronat opus”. We cannot be born again, in spite of what the Gospel says about Baptism. I would not want to survive indefinitely, as a cripple, confined to a wheel-chair. “Play it again, Sam” ? No; life is not a musical score nor a dramatic plot (though mine came pretty close . . . ). For whatever time I have left, I will carpe the diem. I don’t want to live forever, but as long as I do I intend to make the most of it. Anyone for tennis ?

RIDENDA RELIGIO

SAYING MASS

I used to say Mass but now I say Scam. OK, but I’ve been trying to slip that one in for years.

Saying, or better, celebrating, Mass is the function in a priest’s routine that defines his singularity. Hearing confessions, giving absolution, administering the Last Sacraments, preaching, witnessing weddings, officiating at funerals, blessing rosary beads and other tiring tasks, cannot compare with the weekly and often daily miracle a priest performs at the altar. Let’s face it : transforming (“transubstantiating” !) ultra-thin wafers of bread and quarter of a cup of cheap wine into the living body and blood of a man executed 2000 years ago would be miraculous – and unbelievable – enough, but priests manage, on top of that, to have the living, Risen Christ continue to look like bread and wine (somewhat easier to ingest) ! It is no wonder that Protestants have been protesting against the credulity which accepts this grotesque, silly … magic, insisting rather on the purely symbolic nature of the ritual, for the last 500 years !

Everything the priest does at Mass, from his initial “Introibo ad altare Dei” (or whatever they say now in the vernacular version), including the Liturgy of the Word with its Epistle and Gospel readings and the insufferable sermon, is preparation for the miracle of Transubstantiation. The Catholic Church has been getting away with this literally incredible, ludicrous fraud for centuries. From their First Communion, kids grow up swallowing the lie along with the host.

Do Catholics really believe in the “Real Presence” when the priest offers them the wafer saying “The Body of Christ” and they say “Amen” ? I’m afraid most do. It is an essential part of their faith. They don’t know how it works, but they know that God works in hard-to-believe ways. The mystery to me is why it took me forty years to see through the scam.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

BEING KNOWN , BEING FAMOUS, BEING REMEMBERED

. . . or none of the above. “Never heard of him” would be the reaction of at least 99.99999+% of the eight billion people on the planet, if you asked them whether they had ever heard of “Frank O’Meara”. The 0.00000+1% who might say “Yes” would be aficionados of Impressionism, ultra-rare birds, culture-vultures, who recognize the name of a talented 19th century Irish artist who bore the same moniker as myself. The surname might ring a rare bell for history-buffs who have heard of the Irish surgeon, Dr Barry Edward O’Meara, who for three years served on the island of St Helena as the physician of the imperial prisoner, His Majesty Napoleon, whom his British jailers addressed as “General Bonaparte”. Doctor O’Meara spent those three years recording for posterity the exploits of the Emperor in a two-volume work which, along with the biography of Admiral Las Cases, assured that he would never be forgotten.

My grandfather, Michael O’Meara, who emigrated to Australia in 1880, has been almost entirely forgotten in Toomevara (“Tomb of the Meara”), our family seat in Tipperary. Even in his adopted country where he spent most of his life, only his few surviving grandchildren may remember him . . . vaguely. People who live in Kogarah’s O’Meara Street have no idea that their street was named after a certain successful local entrepreneur whom his children called “The Boss”.

Some people would like to be better known, famous even, but know they have Buckley’s. Others prefer quasi-anonymity. They may be proud of their achievments but opt for a low profile. They enjoy their reputation, as well as the company and admiration of a restricted number of friends, but avoid the media. Others, like my plumber, would sell their wife to have their fifteen minutes of glory on the tube.

Having a household name or being recognized in the street is not everybody’s cuppa. But even those who love being in the spotlight know that fame or even recognition is short-lived. Napoleon spent his life and especially his exile in crafting his image for posterity. He wanted desperately to be remembered, and he succeeded – for better or for worse . . . But we have to wonder why he bothered. Even the brilliant, self-made, egocentric Emperor realized that he would not be around to enjoy his posthumous fame.

What, after all, is the point in being remembered ? “Lest we Forget” is the motivation for naming streets, erecting statues and celebrating anniversaries of famous figures of yesteryear. But often street-names are changed, statues – for political reasons or because of corrosion – are not replaced or repaired, and people forget why we celebrate Joe Blow Day.

At the end of the day moving forward, at 84 and bound for Boot Hill, I frankly – what else ? – don’t care whether or not I will be remembered. “Carpe the diem”, which I am lucky enough to be enjoying right now as I type, is my priority. But after I die I would be flattered to discover, were I not non-existent, that anyone was reading this and the rest of my blog, after my mortal coil has been definitively uncoiled.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

STOP PRESS : FRENCH PRIESTS’ PEDOPHILIA CONDEMNED BY AUSTRALIAN PSYCHIATRIST AND FORMER PRIEST , DR PETER EVANS

Doctor Evans is no stranger to regular readers of this blog. He has already offered us several exclusive guest-posts, published nowhere else (type his name in the “Search” rectangle). As a principal consultant in Australia’s “Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse” (2015 – 2017), he is recognized as uniquely qualified in this domain. Peter has graciously allowed me to share with you, faithful, privileged readers, his personal reaction to the French report on which I commented in yesterday’s post. I recommend that you share his comments with others, including the Catholic Bishop of your diocese !

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” The independent report of 3000 priests abusing 200,000 children over a period of 70 years is gut-wrenching though not surprising. The Royal Commission here in Australia, less than half the population of France, found that 1880 Catholic priests and religious had abused 4450 victims over a period of 35 years from 1980 to 2015. No longer am I ever surprised at what I hear about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

“As a psychiatrist, I find it difficult to imagine a more serious and heinous crime for a priest or religious to sexually abuse an innocent child or adolescent to whom we have a profound duty of care. Furthermore, the injury and insults of the abuse and profound breach of trust do not end there. What follows is the blame, the shame, the punishment which is often physical, and the enforced silence which condemns the victim to a solitary confinement of the mind, often for a lifetime. This cuts them off from all social interaction with family, friends and school, all of which are vitally necessary right through their childhood and adolescence. This is when self-esteem, self-control, self-confidence and self-identity are established by this necessary interaction.

“All of this leads to a life of loneliness, loss of identity, loss of control over destiny, isolation, self-blame and guilt which often leads them to take their own lives, leaving behind them heart-broken families that never fully recover. It beggars belief that the Catholic Church for so long ignored the plight of abused victims in favour of protecting its own name, and the so-called sanctity of the priesthood.

“And this is a Church that proclaims that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, is constantly present within the Catholic Church, lest it stray from the path of truth and righteousness. History is judge of that – and more and more Catholics have cast their judgement, voting with their feet. I no longer have any trust in the Catholic Church, even though there are still many genuine and committed priests, religious and friends deeply committed to it.”

Dr Peter Evans, Melbourne, 12/10/2021

PEDOPHILE PRIESTS : WOLVES DISGUISED AS SHEPHERDS

I have never, even as a priest let alone an apostate-atheist, pretended to be a saint. During the seven years of my priesthood, as well as long after I baptized my last baby, preached my last sermon and said my last Mass, I knew many priests whom I would qualify as thoroughly good, if not saintly, men. (I have sung the praises of one of them, Father – later Bishop – John Sullivan, in an earlier post, “What Does it Profit a … Prophet ?”, August 3, 2013.) It never occurred to me that a significant number of my fellow-priests, including my professors, may have been leading a double life of supposed celibacy and criminal pedophilia.

Currently, the French Catholic community is suffering the seismic after-shocks of the explosive independent report on the nearly 3000 French priests known to have sexually assaulted over 200,000 children during the last seventy years. I have to wonder why I never knew or even suspected what was going on. Four of my seven sacerdotal years were spent in France as a student preparing to become a Doctor of Theology. All my professors were priests. My fellow-students were, in the majority (apart from a handful of nuns), young priests like myself from around the globe. Even normal homosexuality, considered to be sinful rather than the inborn sexual orientation that it is, had never been discussed during my studies in the Australian Franciscan seminary, and was never mentioned in the French faculty in which I spent the final years of my priesthood.

Lay people in the sixties – and far more so now – must have wondered occasionally about how their priests coped with the challenge of chastity. I am sure that the question of clerical pederasty never entered their minds, though in retrospect the constant presence, in liturgical functions, of altar-boys (exclusively boys until after Vatican Council 2 which ended in 1965), in their effeminate costumes, could have planted suspicions in what would have been considered at the time the warped minds of skeptics with anti-clerical prejudices. Priests unfaithful to their vow of celibacy were always presumed to have been fornicating with women, not men – and, God save us, boys; with adults, not children.

Priests like myself, who on occasion heard confreres’ confessions, were accustomed to hear the self-accusation of frequent masturbation, and – rarely – of heterosexual intercourse. I cannot speak for others, but I never once heard a priest confess the sexual molestation of children. (Note : nothing I have just said violates the Seal of Confession.)

Psychiatrists, including a personal friend of mine who is not only a former priest but now an atheist like myself, are alone qualified to offer explanations of the behavior of priests guilty of pedophilia. The rest of us have reactions ranging from shame to outrage to condemnations of the perpetrators of such vicious and unpardonable crimes, which became a systemic way of life, concealed and condoned by their superiors. We must never allow these revelations to be swept under the carpet. The Church bears an enormous guilt for the crimes of its priests and a permanent obligation to protect its flock from the wolves in its midst disguised as shepherds.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

GRANDFATHERS DIE

. . . as do even grandmothers. Little children know this happens but take a while to realize they will never see Grandpa or Grandma again. They may cry, but they get used to them not being around any more. It never occurs to them that they too will – with luck – become grandparents themselves and therefore die. And no one is about to give them a lecture about universal human mortality. Pets die too. Their demise, like that of grandparents, gets some of us to talk to children about Heaven; kids never wonder about how many people and pets are “Up There”.

As we grew up, death was all around us, but we never talked about it, and, as far as possible, preferred not to think about it. We witness and later personally experience the warning signs in others and ourselves, but expect – some of us even pray for – a “rapid recovery”. The rare realists among us learn to accept the inevitable.

Primitive myths about an “afterlife” overlook the pointlessness of having to die (unless it is to provide “lebensraum” for others). The “God”, invented by the credulous, for some reason supposedly made us mortal, vulnerable to all sorts of dangers. But even survivors of disasters (as well as the “miraculously cured”) eventually die. The religious “explanation” (preparation for eternal life) suffices for the majority. It has been my personal good fortune to realize that my own beliefs about my “immortal soul” were groundless. I know why people invented God and the religions that perpetuate our wishful thinking. I will never know why I, like every entity that ever lived, will sooner or later die – apart from the fact that I’m a grandfather and grandfathers die.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

” MEA CULPA ” : ADMITTING GUILT

We all have our “little secrets”, but some of our fellow-citizens have real crimes on their conscience. Often truth will out and sooner or later they get the punishment they deserve. But, as a former confessor, I know that some criminals succeed in concealing their crimes, sometimes getting away with … murder. I also know the weight of the burden of unavowed guilt – and the benefit the Sacrament of Penance provides when the Catholic criminal admits his crime, first to himself and then, under the protection of the Seal of Confession, to a priest-confessor. Catholics believe that sacramental absolution is the pronouncement of divine forgiveness. But even if a criminal does not believe in God and could not care less about divine forgiveness, his admission of guilt, even limited to himself, is itself a salutary, admittedly partial, liberation. The reason is simple : the truth makes us free.

It was clever of the Church to invent the concept of mortal sin and the Sacrament of Penance which supposedly wipes the slate clean, thereby saving the sinner from eternal damnation. But even atheists can do themselves a favor by admitting, at least to themselves, the wrongs they have done. Self-deception is self-destruction. They may even find the decency in themselves to make reparation – as far as this is possible – for their secret misdeeds.

P.S. Any suggestion that I found inspiration for this post – my first-ever sermon to atheists – in the Netflix movie “The Guilty”, of which Jake Gyllenhaal is both producer and solo actor, is without foundation.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

” A NEW AGE OF REASON ” ?

From the final pages of one of John Le Carré’s best novels, “A Legacy of Spies”, the phrase in the title expresses the principal character’s dream, after a long career as a British spy in the 20th century’s Cold War : “If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason”. Thirty years after the fall of the Wall, we’re still waiting.

The Renaissance was a new age of reason. The Enlightenment even more so. With today’s world on the brink of ecological disaster, along with the realigning of priorities and alliances and the repositioning of the center of geopolitical gravity, we seem to be headed for the Apocalypse rather than the Triumph of Reason. The vast majority of us, whatever our opinions, will be passive onlookers of the unfolding of environmental and political global developments. But in the domain which is that of this blog, the hoped-for disappearance of religious credulity, can we reasonably hope for a new age of rationality to replace the dark ages of the ubiquity, if not the domination, of religion ?

Recent statistics on belief and the practice of religion may encourage atheists, but do they promise the consommation we so devoutly wish ? The pandemic of irrationality opposing Covid-19 vaccinations does not encourage optimism in this regard. Religion has no monopoly on stupidity.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

MY WAY

I don’t expect that many of you ever read – or remember reading – the two earlier posts in which I quote one of the most insightful, though misleading, phrases I have ever read : “We are all born originals; unfortunately most of us end up as copies”. I recommend that before you pursue your reading of the present post, you read “Think for Yourself” (September 11, 2015) and “Four More Years” (July 25, 2018). You will discover, among other things, the surprising origin of the quotation.

O.K. Whether you read them or not, you might be wondering why I attach such importance to the quotation. We were, indeed, once originals and in one sense still are : no one else ever had our fingerprints. But we share our DNA with lots of others, including chimps. In fact, if we are not born deformed or handicapped, our bodies resemble very closely a full half of the human race. The size of our brain and other physical characteristics differentiate us; the gifts we may have inherited may make us stand out later from the crowd. But by and large we know that we end up the way we are today more because of nurture than nature. From the gitgo, our parents, our environment, our social status, our education, our life-experience made us what we have become. It is difficult to determine how much we personally contributed to, and are responsible for, the final product we are.

You are already asking yourself where I am going with this nombrilistic introspection, these elucubrations of an octogenarian (we have a lot of time between siestas to analyse our past experiences). We may bore family and friends by inflicting interminable accounts of events in our lives that we think are interesting and even significant, which they are too polite to point our they have heard before, and are too kind to say that they remain as unimpressed now as then.

As we approach the end of our life, many of us, sufficiently compos mentis to remember events from the past (usually more vividly those in the distant past) and having filtered out the unpleasant, embarrassing ones we never share and prefer to forget, take pleasure and often even pride in our past accomplishments. The reason is obvious. We need to feel that our lives made sense, that we made our mark, that we made a difference in our family, social and professional environment. We know that others may succumb to despair when they realize how empty their lives have been, how unjust, even egoistically cruel, they were to family members, the failures they have been. We are not of that stripe. At the end of the day – and of our lives, moving forward to the end of our existence – we tend to paint the lily. Having repressed the negative aspects of our life, we are, all things considered, pretty proud of ourselves, forgetting too often how much we owe to those who educated and influenced us, as well as the sheer luck we have had. We may even harbor the illusion that we deserve credit for our originality. We are ready to proclaim, if not sing : “I did it my way”.

I hope I am more honest than that, and that this blog – with its obvious limitations – is recognized as one man’s effort, having profited from others’ example and insight, to share the truth of atheism that he was lucky enough to discover and promote in the latter half of his long life.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

NUNS , MONKS , BROTHERS AND FRIARS

Calling the hospital next to Notre Dame in Paris the “Hôtel Dieu” (“God’s hotel”) reminds us that for centuries Christianity has had a remarkable history of institutionalizing charity, recognized by St Paul as the greatest of the virtues, superior even to faith and hope. For 2000 years devout men and women have dedicated their lives to caring for the poor, the sick, orphans, outcasts and the mentally deranged, as well as to providing education for the underprivileged. Often this altruism was the raison d’être for the creation of Religious Orders, the members of which are dedicated not only to prayer and contemplation (and even in some Orders perpetual silence) but also to “good works”. Their manual labor permitted self-sufficiency and even the sale of the monks’ and nuns’ production. So successful was this Gospel-inspired enterprise (in every sense of the word) that monasteries became scandalously rich. Whence, I must add, as a former Franciscan Friar, the creation of Mendicant Orders like mine, committed to personal and communal poverty, scandalized by other religious orders which ignored the example of Jesus, who had nowhere to lay his head.

In spite of the crisis, since Vatican 2, of “vocations” to the religious and monastic life, Roman Catholic orders still exist, though some have become moribund or extinct. This evolution makes it even more remarkable to see admittedly vastly reduced numbers of young men and women today continue to seek admission to, and pronounce vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in, the surviving contemplative and active Orders. One cannot but pity the blindness of these religious, whose faith has somehow weathered the current rampant indifference to religion and even to atheism which increasingly mark Western society.

I wonder what keeps these monks and nuns impervious to the sort of questioning that fills atheist blogs like this one – especially the only one written by a former member of a Religious Order, a Catholic priest and a professor of Theology. I suspect they find encouragement in the admiration of the Faithful Remnant and in the appreciation of those to whom they have dedicated their lives.

Like the Salvation Army, and unlike secular organizations like “Doctors without Borders”, the motivation behind the altruism of Religious Orders is “saving souls” from a non-existent Hell and scoring brownie-points for their own reward in a non-existent Heaven. Blindfaithblindfolly.

RIDENDA RELIGIO