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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Our priest has always been a bit on the radical side

Which means that he often espouses a noticeable departure from orthodoxy. But not heresy, I think, as he is very careful to present his ideas as talking points, not as Final Answers. But two days in a row is straining my heart.

Sunday, he was talking about the shortage of priests, and suggesting that perhaps this is an opportunity for the Church to ordain married men. Okay, that's not too bad, given that celibacy is a discipline and a tradition (small 't'), but I had the impression that the numbers of seminarians were actually picking up -- particular in those places where people and their pastors were, you know, orthodox. Anyway, next he talks about broadening the role of lay people in ministry. No problem, not even when he talks about women in ministry. There's women who may be pastors and there's priests. Totally different things. I had no problem with a Dominican sister who was in charge of religious education in my school, or a lay woman (whom we lovingly called Mama Chu) was director of the university's campus ministry. At least he didn't mention ordaining them as priests. So I guess it wasn't too bad, but his homily raised my eyebrows some, but not too much.

Monday morning Mass and he's at it a bit more. It's a celebration of the holy guardian angels. Scripture is full of references to them, some of them are given names and big roles, while others were mentioned in general references only.

So why was our beloved (and we do love him) Father Michael talking about angels in Scripture as simply part of the "literary form" (therefore fictitious)? Why does he suggest that they were borrowed by the Hebrews heavily from Persian literature? The thought of a strand being pulled apart, unraveling the tapestry, came to mind. Take out angels and you wipe out a lot of Scriptural accounts, and a lot of theology. The untenability of his exegetical venture was accentuated by the liturgy itself, which, for this day, was full of Scriptural quotes about the holy angels. I don't know if he realized what a serious exegetical proposition that was. If angels were no more than literary devices, borrowed from Persian myths to provide form to the guidance of God, then what does that make of the Devil? If he's a literary form, what is he an agent of? Surely not our God! And what of the Lord's command to make figures of angels covering the tabernacle with their wings? Surely Moses did not risk the Lord's wrath and jealousy in order to provide the tabernacle with embellishments from figures of.. Persian mythological creatures!

I have no problems with a homily asserting that the holy angels are best seen in the light of God's providence, as agents of his constant care for his children. To Him be the power and the glory! Amen! But God is not so insecure as to require solo billing. He gets top billing, sure, and the angels themselves would be the first to ask this. But to lower the angels to the level of mythical beings included in Scripture by the Holy Spirit's inspiration as mere literary forms.. insults their Master as much as it insults them.

I am one of Father Michael's many happy children in our parish. He is a very able preacher, a compassionate confessor and my kids love him. But I think, in this instance, he may have let the academic in him get the better of the priest in him. Much as it happens to me a lot, being an academic myself. Sometimes, ideas, theories, exciting new branches of our sciences can get away from us.

There must be a reason why the Lord told his disciples not to worry about what they needed to say when they are brought into courts. Perhaps it is for the same reason that the Lord mandated the Magisterium,lest we each try our hand at pontificating, and give in to temptations of over-reaching and creativity in overdrive.

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