Monday, February 4, 2013

Sparring in a Cassock

The other day I finished reading Rediscover Catholicism, which is being instituted into local Catholic parishes as required reading.

Today I walked into Edina's largest Catholic parish, found the lanyard-issuing entryway lady--and asked if I might make an appointment to speak with the longtime lead priest.  'I've just finished reading Rediscover Catholicism, and I'd like to discuss the book with him,' I explain.

Signs and banners--inside and out--promote Rediscover Catholicism events.

As we talk, adorable uniformed schoolkids zigzag this way and that, in intoxicating waves.  She advises I call and leave a message, 'and he might get back to you'--but then offers the priest's extension.  'Might I ring him from here, on your desk phone?'  She complies, the mid-sixties black-cassocked pastor answers the phone--and I ask if he might be willing to allow me 15 minutes to discuss Rediscover Catholicism.

He surprises me: 'Sure, come on in, now.'  I wind through an art-filled, churchy hall or two and am then led by the father's expectant personal secretary, who peeks onward, into the inner sanctum, verifying I am approved company.  He reassures her, yes--and I am allowed in.

The office is (amusingly) slightly messy, I sit down and we chat for almost an hour, with complete politeness throughout, and reasonably frank.  The French Revolution, the existence of God, gay rights, evolution--the usual suspects.

It's exciting, sharing the private consciousness of a person onto whom so many project fantasies of supreme integrity--a person purportedly dedicated to a radical sexual ideal.

I exercise the atheist's prerogative:  When presented with an opportunity to politely poke a person who claims to have dedicated his life to mystic vision, I use it.

So:  Do you believe in the Resurrection of Jesus based on evidence--or based on faith?

I've put this question to many religious people, but no cleric has been more frank in acknowledging that belief in the Resurrection is overwhelmingly a matter of faith.  I have to give him props for being somewhat sophisticated:  This man freely acknowledges no one is going to embrace the Resurrection of Jesus based on the evidence.  Respect.

He plays the nice guy and offers an insidery observation or two.  He embraces what he perceives to be a moderately liberal social outlook.  When the archdiocese spent $600k trying to get Minnesotans to enshrine the ban on gay marriage into the state constitution (which, let's be honest, we haven't read), this priest would have sought a more centrist position--offering gay couples civil unions that would provide all the legal benefits and duties of heterosexual marriage but without the word 'marriage.'

His more urgent marriage concern is the high failure rate of contemporary man-woman marriages, he states.

I sometimes feel we apportion overmuch moral prestige to the married; a concern of mine during Minnesota's ongoing gay marriage debate is that--within popular culture--we too seldom ponder the positive aspects of remaining non-married.  I pass along to the friar, calmly, that I don't consider his gay rights stance all that progressive.

The priest believes the strongest evidence for the existence of God is the existence of the universe.  I tell him I view that as quite non-persuasive.  He acknowledges many adherent Catholics--himself included--believe in the Big Bang and evolution.  But when he learns I embrace thoroughgoing evolution, he offers pushback:  The earth's flora and fauna couldn't completely be the result of chance.

Evolution, I rebut, isn't just chance.  Our ankles are thick and our wrists are small--and that is not by chance, I remind him.  If we were cavemen and you found an iPhone, he proffers, you'd have to consider that the work of God.  The life-infused human body--the ecclesiastic advances--is far more complex than an iPhone.

So, as friendly as the priest is, there's a woeful insufficiency in the evolution-awareness of believing Catholics.  Many of them say they accept evolution--though they think it was magically tweaked by God.

To accept evolution is to acknowledge no magical intervention is needed to explain the plants and animals around us, and us.

I don't persuade him, though he reflects the pleasure I feel in his company.  He's a guy who can't help slightly respecting people who love boxing with clerics, in my above-board kind of way.  A handclasp--and I am off.
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