25 Years Later
five years ago I wrote A Modern Priest Looks At His
It was that
voice within me that
impelled me to write. It was not a
choice, but an inner, irresistible force that empowered and at times
what I wrote. The words flowed
passionately, almost effortlessly, and I felt more like a spectator
author. The impact of those words was
beyond anything I could imagine. I had
no idea the book would reach millions in seven different languages,
would lead thousands of priests and nuns from the Church, drive the
himself to preach from the Vatican balcony, and give support to
people of every religion to follow their inner light.
I only wrote because I had to, but it became
clear that my struggle was like their own.
Their letters told me that, like myself, they hungered for a God of love and compassion, not the familiar control of a frightened parent that restricts our vision and pillages our dignity. We could no longer endure such a God. Thus we did not leave the Church, we outgrew it! We wanted more than it offered. If we were to be spiritual adults, we had to put away the things of a child. Custom and comfort were not a consequence if they did not lead to the joy and freedom of God’s own Son. Later I wrote of “My Easy God” Who only asked blind adherence to institutional precepts and sanctions:I have lost my easy God—the one whose name
I knew since childhood
I knew his temper, his sullen outrage, his ritual forgiveness…
I never told him how he frightened me,
how he followed me as a child
When I played with friends or begged for candy
He the mysterious took all mystery away.
corroded my imagination,
Controlled the stars and would not let them
speak for themselves.
Now he haunts me seldom: some fierce umbilical is broken.
I lived with my own fragile hopes and sudden raising despair.
Now I do not weep for my sins; I have
learned to love them and
To know that they are the wounds that make love real…
I walk alone, but not so terrified as when he held my hand…
Perhaps I have no God—what does it matter?
I have beauty and joy and transcending loneliness,
I have the beginning of love—as beautiful as it is feeble,
As free as it is human…
I sense the call of creation, I feel it’s swelling in my hands,
I can lust and love, eat and drink, sleep and rise,
But my easy God is gone—and in his stead
The mystery of loneliness and love.
From There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves
talk shows and
interviews, lectures and debates, convinced me I had to surrender my
to find the God within. While speaking at
For a time I continued to fight the Church, determined to reform it. It gradually became clear that what I asked of the Church, I must find myself. The Church was not yet ready or able to change, so without a blueprint I began my own search for the God I had lost in earliest childhood. My path has been slow and arduous because I’ve had to release most of what I spent my life learning and teaching. Fear and guilt run deep and I had been trained in it by experts. Thus I had few inner skills for such a journey. I was controlled and controlling, as judgmental and frightened as my Church had ever been.
Hippocrates who said that
pain is a cruel doctor but few of us learn from any other.
What all the Holy Weeks and gospel
narratives, the crucifixes and sermons, the prayers and theology had
taught me, life did. I had lost my
Catholic community and lifelong friends, my marriage failed, publishers
away, three older brothers died of cancer in their prime, and I felt
ravages of buried fear and depression. I
was not really prepared for the simple message of death and
is the core of every religion: “Unless the grain of wheat falls into
and dies, it remains itself alone.” Like the Jews in exodus from
I still feel a connection with the Church that has been integral part of my culture and journey to God. My fervent wish is that both of us will continue to grow in the wisdom and understanding, the compassion and love that only death and resurrection can teach. Jesus said it all, but somehow his message got lost among the historic refuse of creeds and commandments, sin and judgment, fear, guilt and eternal torments. We only have to learn not to rule but to serve, not to judge and condemn, but to honor everyone of any cult or culture as God’s own offspring. We have to die to live. So does the Church.
I decided to
reissue Modern Priest not only to honor numerous
requests, but because I realize how much of it remains relevant 25
later. The Church is still afraid to
trust men and women, so let go of the past, to scrape history’s scars
power and beauty of the message of Jesus. Like
the rest of us, it still has a lot of “dying” to do
There is so much help and understanding needed in our world. Such great hunger for spiritual guidance! For love and laughter, compassion and service, generosity and peace! The same history that made us separate and afraid can make us whole! A generation has passed since I wrote, and yet the institutional Church has not evolved with the spiritual consciousness of an ever shrinking world. It is my hope that even twenty five years later, A Modern Priest Looks At His Outdated Church can continue to play a part in that transformation. Writing it was a directive from my inner voice and the beginning of a journey that has brought me closer to God, to myself, and to you. I hope that reading it may do the same for another.