March 20, 2013

Insubstantially Transubstantiated

I had the most marvelous imagination growing up as a child. I had the power in my mind to create a kingdom out of nothing more than snow, or a volcano out of a pile of leaves, my bike was my stallion, any long stick was Excalibur. I danced in the halls of Rivendell with Elrond and the Elves, I carried the One Ring, I was Frodo, I was Bilbo, I was the Batman. To this day even I have the same dreams that I did when I was a child, I dream of flying, I dream of dragons, I dream I am a hero. My imagination while more reserved is still fresh, perhaps just not as unencumbered as when I was a child.

It is my imagination I am afraid that lent itself to my becoming a priest. I allowed the fantasy of the church, its friars, its grandeur, its history, its pomp and circumstance, seduce me and appealed so eloquently to the boyhood dreams that boil in my blood. Walking into a monastery as a young man set on fire all the dreams, the childhood games, the snow kingdoms, the fantastical journeys to Middle Earth alight. These dreams took their substance in the real world of the seminary church around me. I allowed this imagination of mine to wash over me, vibrant in the very fibers of my body, my flesh and become for a little bit the reality.

As you may have read previously in my earlier blogs, I find myself contemplative during this season of Lent. I cannot help it, having grown up for 28 years "celebrating" the season, praying, meditating, fasting, longing, wishing it would be over, dreaming it would never end (I still to this day love the stations of the cross, such a tragedy, such drama). While in contemplation, I'm looking through the files in mind containing where my own faith in the church was no longer sustaining me. Where in my journey to discover myself I realized I was not to be found in the trappings of theological belief, but rather in the trappings of a man seeking love. My recent reading of Mary Johnson's book, "An Unquenchable Thirst, a Memoir", I was moved by how eloquently she was in love with the Jesus character, how the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa herself, so fully, so passionately gave themselves to the central character of Christianity, the Christ, but in so doing denied themselves so fully the interaction, the passion, the love we experience with another human being. In Mary's own work she fully examines her own desire to be loved, not in the theological fashion that her vows called for, but in a fashion that allowed the touch, the sensation of a warm body against a warm body, to dwell on her flesh, to move her blood. In my examination of my own life, I have always wanted to feel that love. I knew it as a child, my mother was and is truly a loving person. I am a person quite capable of falling in love, very easily with most anyone. I, on many levels, keep a distance from many people because it would be so easy for me to love them, not just because they're my fellow mankind, but because I love them, the person, their fallacies, their exalted strengths, I simply fall in love.

My life in the church allowed me to fall in love, and at first I thought I could love Christ, or God the Father, or his Mother the Virgin Mary. I tried very hard to fall in love with them, but no more than I could retain my melted snow kingdoms in the springs, could I retain love of divine images of mankind's own longing for greatness. The reality was in my desire to serve the world around me, I discovered I couldn't love the world around me, not at least the theological world, not at least the Church. How long can you play at a game? For me, not very, and my interest will quickly wane. I played at the seminary, fantasied about my church, my parish. I imagined I would have a small stone church somewhere in the country with a little parish. I would pray with the faithful in the morning, drink coffee, enjoy a roll with jam, and then my day would be set with reading, writing, contemplation, a bit of work, visiting the parishioners, tending to their hurts, offering them words of wisdom, then in the evenings I could retire after a nice supper, smoke my pipe, and fall asleep in my armchair reading C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien and sitting on my lap would my long haired cat purring me to sleep. I could fall in love with that life. I also could fall in love with Tony Stark's life, or Bruce Wayne's. I could fall in love with Jonathan and Martha Kent. I can, I do, I have fallen in love with dreams, with fantasy. However, I cannot live in fantasy. There is no stone church in the country, no small parish to support my eccentricities. There is no Iron Man, there is no Batman, Superman doesn't fly, he doesn't exist.

I've mentioned in other writings or other conversations that the moment I realized the fantasy of my theological life was just that, for me at least, fantasy was while I was at prayer on Holy Thursday followed the Passover meal celebrated by our student body in seminary in 1989. I was kneeling in the side chapel of the monastery's basilica where the Eucharist was held in adoration in the ostensorium. I was praying there, not long out of a theological class earlier in the year on the Church's position regarding transubstantiation, and it occurred to me that the flour and water host, so marvelously displayed, was just that, flour and water. The theological concept of transubstantiation is compelling, and without much consideration is logically an acceptable way to define that mystical moment that bread and wine are substantially changed in essence but not external appearance. The Church teaches that the bread and wine are participant in the manifestation of Christ in the Eucharist, but that the bread and wine, the compounds, after the Eucharist prayer are prayed and the mystery reveals itself, simply remain but are not the essence, they are elemental, but not the reality. To simplify, a house is stone, wood, cement, nails, etc. However, if you were to just pile these things together, they would not be in essence a house, those elements exist, but they are not what makes a house a home. It is the family life therein, the love, the sorrow, the suffering, the joy, that makes a house a home (you know the phrase, home is where the heart is). Thus in the Eucharist, according to the Church, the water, bread and wine may be piled together, but they do not make the Eucharist the Eucharist, it is the Christ, the home, that makes the Eucharist his person in essence but not in substance. Now I cannot fully sum this theological doctrine here, many, many books and theological doctrines have been composed around this teaching, and in no way am I able to fully explore in my blog this doctrine, nor do I so desire. My moment of clarity came when looking at the adored Eucharist in the monstrance that I realized this doctrine was a simple way to tell people, that, "no really, the priest breathed the breath of Christ into the host, washed the wine away with divine authority and left blood to give you life."

I was living a life that was transubstantial. The essence of my life was different than the reality, the elements outwardly displayed. I actually lived in the way that cemented the final moment of disbelief for me. I knew that the elements of my life, the outward movements of prayer, theological study, ministry as a Christian, life as a priest were not the essence, which was in fact I was, I am an atheist. The reality is I had become the very inauthentic message that I had never wanted to be. I was in my own mind, my own soul the villain - not the hero. I had done to myself for almost 10 years the very thing I never wanted to do, live in a manner not authentic to my own beliefs, I allowed myself to live in my fantasy world and failed to do the one thing I always wanted which was to love. As much as I enjoyed fantasy, imagination, I could never fall in love with it, and thus while a priest I was never able to fall in love with my life, I could only pretend, imagine love.
I still love to imagine, to dream, to fantasize. I still love to pretend, to imagine myself the champion, the king, the Batman. The difference my life is sustained with genuine human love around me. I have learned to put away those fantasy and discover realities that are not based in a faith, a hope, a dream, that they might some day come to fruition, the life I live today is real, the love I have is genuine, and my essence and my elements have come to the surface, they have become me.

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