Friday, May 29, 2009

Padre Alberto and religious identity

As I think about Padre Alberto and Ruhama’s decision to join the Episcopal Church, it makes sense, given the few options left for them in the Roman Catholic Church. As Episcopalians, they will be able to have a church wedding immediately, no questions asked. Padre Alberto will not have to wait to be laicized. In fact, the Archbishop of Miami has already issued a scathing statement that all but excommunicates him. It certainly leaves no doubt that his priestly faculties within the Roman Catholic Church have been suspended indefinitely – not that it matters anymore. Both will be able to take communion immediately in their new church, whereas one or both are currently barred from the table in our Church. And, after requisite preparation, Padre Alberto will become a married Episcopalian priest and the only question is how many Hispanic Catholics are sufficiently indifferent to the denominational differences that they would rather follow a pastor they have come to love than remain in the Church whose mandatory celibacy policy forced him out.

Traditional Catholics are wringing their hands and consigning the couple to Hell and my friend Padre Hoyos, with whom I respectfully and totally disagree on this issue, just wrote a column that is extremely critical of Father Cutié, but I don’t share my Church’s view of itself as the one true faith, the only viable alternative to eternal damnation. However, I personally wish that Padre Alberto had chosen to remain in the Church and that the Archdiocese of Miami could have found a role for him as a married lay man. It breaks my heart that we are losing another good Hispanic priest to the Episcopalians because of our intransigent insistence on an outdated policy.

Contrary to popular belief, the Episcopal Church is not just the Catholic Church minus a few pesky rules and the Vatican bureaucracy. There are fundamental doctrinal differences – the question of transubstantiation, the role and nature of Mary in the Church, for example. The liturgy is somewhat different. It defies the rote memorization that makes Catholicism so accessible even to the illiterate. I have never felt at home in an Episcopalian service while I can follow a Catholic Mass even in a completely foreign language.

In the deepest part of my soul, I know I could never be an Episcopalian even though I admire the fact that they have married and women priests and extend communion to all believers. The moment I have to juggle the Book of Common Prayer and the hymnal and struggle to find my way around in them, I feel out of place. When I am in a Spanish charismatic Catholic Mass, I don’t need any books. I have learned the responses and the songs by osmosis. I can find my groove and lift my eyes to God. No page turning involved.

Little incidents or life-changing moments can cause us to open our religious identity up for re-examination. In a recent posting, I wrote that I see Jesus in the faces of our brothers and sisters rather than in the Host. A reader responded that he was surprised that I would make this statement and even more so that I would make it to Father Hoyos, but one of the wonderful features of my relationship with Fr. Hoyos is that we can be truthful with each other, occasionally disagree, and at the end of the day we are still friends who care about and respect each other exactly as we are. I feel blessed to work with him, even on days like today when his column makes me want to scream with frustration.

The reader also confessed that although he is a good Catholic, he has doubts about transubstantiation. This made me re-examine my writing. Perhaps it was too glib or misleading. I do believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ. Why? Because Jesus Himself said so at the Last Supper. He didn’t say: “This is a symbol of My Body”; He said: “This is My Body.” “This is My Blood.” That is the basis of the Catholic doctrine on transubstantiation and it is all I need to know, but this belief is not visually-based. I am not some mystic who can look at the consecrated Host and see a piece of human flesh or Jesus Himself.

At the Eucharist, Jesus is present in all the elements – in the priest by virtue of his ordination who is acting in persona Cristi, in the bread and wine, and in the faithful who are created in the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God. Jesus is also present in the interaction between the elements if Communion is given and received reverently and mindfully. Unfortunately, all too often the priest becomes a wafer-dispensing robot whose mind is elsewhere, and the communicant gobbles down the wafer, their mind already focused on what they will be doing after Mass. Jesus gets lost in the process.

As for Eucharistic Adoration (which was the topic of the post), it is a spiritual practice not a doctrine, and I do not have to participate in it to be a good Catholic. Eastern rite Catholics, for example, do not practice Eucharistic Adoration. I have spent the last few days looking at the consecrated Host in the monstrance and I still do not see Jesus, but I know I am receiving Him when I take communion because I feel a peace in my heart that I do not feel when eating a regular piece of bread.

I also feel peace and joy from participating in the Hora Santa with Padre Martín and Dei Verbum but I recognize honestly that the peace and joy come from the totality of the experience, not from looking at the consecrated Host, and I know that I would not go out of my way to spend time in prayer alone in front of a tabernacle. In a church, I am far more likely to focus my gaze on the Crucifix, an icon, or some other graphic representation of the Divine One. I admit that I may be missing something spiritually, but it doesn’t make me a bad Catholic.

In the end, I believe it is better to be truthful – for me to admit that I don’t readily see Jesus in the consecrated Host, for Padre Alberto to admit that the Catholic “shoe” no longer fits – than to pretend to be somebody we are not. True love requires honesty and compassion. I also think that it is much worse to spend hours contemplating the Blessed Sacrament and yet fail to see Jesus in the eyes of the beggar outside the sanctuary door.

As Padre Alberto said yesterday, “God is love”, and that love must transcend our denominational boundaries and extend to all God’s creation. May the Lord bless Padre Alberto and Ruhama as they change the course of their lives and follow a different path to Him.

1 comment:

  1. I have still my cheeks wet. Literally you brought me to tears R.G. This is one of the most beautiful inspiring writings I ever read in my life. I wish you could be a Priest or a Pastor. I will reexamine my doubts and write to you back. Let's not forget, spirituality is also search, not just believes. Thank you hermana.