Thursday, August 28, 2008

To Belong... or To Believe?

Have you ever been "dissed?"

Of course you have. Any of us who has kids gets disrespected, even in front of a crowd. But they're kids. The other adults in the room "get it." They think to themselves, "You too, huh?" You send the little brats to their room that evening without their video games, and life goes on.

It's worse when it comes from other adults. And when it happens in an ostensibly Catholic setting, and others let them get away with it, your faith is tested.

Oh, you can sit here and say, now, now, it doesn't matter if the others reject you, it's all about Jesus and the Cross, and he will never desert you, yada yada yada. Okay, fine. I was awake for that catechism class, by the way. But as the saying goes, "The heart has reasons, that reason knows not." How can I explain the unexplainable to you? I can't even explain it to myself. Besides, if life had such cut-and-dry answers to everything, would we even need the Cross?

The problem is, people don't always lose their faith as a result of careful and considerate reasoning. It's usually something more sudden, and less reasonable. And nine times out of ten, the person who instigates this misbehavior, is the person whose position is such that you don't see it coming.

I'll tell you of how it came to me....

Years ago, I attended a seminar at a small Catholic college known for its fidelity to orthodoxy in the Faith. At some point, I saw fit to visit the college chapel. It was a modest yet graceful structure, and I took a seat in the back to watch the choir practice. But before I did, I noticed a pile of sheet music on a counter, unattended. Without really thinking, I picked one up to look at it, without going anywhere. In a second, I was seized upon by the older priest who was directing the choir. He grabbed me roughly by the arm, and against my demands that he unhand me, literally dragged me about ten feet to a seat. (This guy was over six feet tall, and kinda mean looking. Old guys can pull that off easily.) I was a forty year old man, being treated like a teenaged ruffian in front of a bunch of college kids. Well, I got the hell outa there, and was visibly shaken for much of the day. If that had happened now, he'd be walking funny for a few days. But this was then, so...

I called the priest in question the following week, and demanded an apology. What's more, I demanded it in public. For reasons that today are somewhat beyond me, I returned to the college, and sat quietly in the chapel. There I listened to the prepared statement from the old geezer, that went something like this:

"On [the date in question], a gentleman visiting our chapel observed what he believed to be inappropriate behavior, during preparation for Holy Mass. An apology is rendered forthwith."

Now, you can call it what you want, but that was no apology, especially when the pompous ass responsible for the "inappropriate behavior" refused to name himself as the inappropriate behaving party. In the week that followed, I wrote the president of the college. The letter I got back was slightly more pathetic than the "apology." After reminding me twice in the letter of my promise not to pursue the matter further (as in, lawyers, guns, and money), he made up some "we're only human" excuse, and said he would talk to the priest himself. Oh yeah, I'll just bet he did.

Having failed to make much of an impression on the putz who was responsible for running such a nut farm president of the college, I began preparing a letter to each of the board of trustees of this institution. It was then that I spoke to a young man with a long and close association with this bastion of higher wisdom. He persuaded me not to pursue the matter further, as such an incident would only be used as a power play among the august body of academic luminaries, and no good would come of it. As ridiculous as this explanation sounds, I was convinced.

In the years since the incident, I have attended lectures of the college, and have even contributed financially. (If you have to ask why, I can't explain it to you.) The college has grown and prospered into a fine institution, with bishops and cardinals from all over God's green earth descending upon the place to give it their blessing. Some of the same people in charge then, are still in charge now. I'm sure they're insufferably pleased with themselves. They should be. They got away with being total jerks, at the expense of a nobody whose opinion and stature is of no consequence. We don't all get so lucky in this world, at throwing our weight, and our titles, around. Some of the students who witnessed the incident now have children old enough to be considering college. I wonder if they will direct their children to their dear alma mater. I wonder if it will be for the fine example of devotion to the Faith that they witnessed there. I wonder what kind of example they will associate with the aforementioned incident. It probably won't be the right one. How would have they learned otherwise?

What would I do if it happened today?

For one thing, I would avoid most of the drama, not to mention save myself an extra road trip. What's more, the priest would never get away with laying a hand on me. But, in lieu of any resolution on the spot, I would simply write letters afterwards to the offending priest, the president, the board of trustees, and the bishop, describing the incident in detail, telling them all they had thirty days to provide me with complete satisfaction, or the entire world wide web would be the forum of every excruciating detail of the incident, including the naming of names, and their correct spelling. (What would they sue me for, definition of character?) And maybe send an extra copy to the National Catholic Reporter. Yeah, they're always looking for a great story.

Then I really would forget about it.

You're just dying to know why I brought this up now, aren't you?

This is a week when bishops from around the country are taking Speaker Nancy Pelosi to task, for lying about the Church's teaching on abortion on nationwide television. At such a time as this, the leaders of such institutions of "higher" learning, will be quick to remind us of how they are forming the minds of the next generation of witnesses to the Faith. Others laud them for "sticking to their guns" in maintaining a Catholic identity, in the face of scorn from the Catholic academic establishment. But exactly what form of "witnesses" do they have in mind? Is being Catholic some sort of a members-only club, where you get to belong by paying your dues and talking a good game? Because that's the Catholicism of Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi, and all the other bozos who spout their Catholic values as though they actually mattered, until their backs are against the wall, whereupon it all rings hollow. The leaders of this college may vote differently, or be on separate mailing lists, but are they really that much different? Have they been any less willing to use their status to get away with something? Is it belonging, or believing, that makes us Catholic? And if it's the latter, why do the least among us matter less than the greater? And if they do, why is that worthy of our praise?

Somewhere, I still have that letter. I hope to find it among my papers someday, whereupon I will frame it. Call me crazy -- and get in line if you do -- but there is a certain amusement in being able to bring such a distinguished figure to his knees. I don't get that chance too often. I'm not important enough.

By the grace of God, may I never be so important, as to do anything that stupid.


matthew archbold said...

Interesting story. As a guy with a tendency to nurse grudges, I can relate to it.

David L Alexander said...

Funny you should say that. I tend to stop nursing them once I write about them.

erin is nice said...

so are you going to name the school? please?

David L Alexander said...

No. It would tempt them to give into their worst (that is to say, litigious) instincts, even though the story is true.