Saint Judas

After seeing this story out of Buffalo, New York in yesterday’s news, it seems to me that I need to get my novel and screenplay about seminary life (Saint Judas) written at the first opportunity. As it turns out, life is sometimes more salacious than fiction.

What I learned from my seminary experience was basically this:

1) it was an institution riddled with people who didn’t know who they were

2) since they didn’t know who they were, they were insecure and shifty; in a word: they lacked integrity

3) these people would say one thing and do another, thus fostering a climate of distrust

4) at that point, Satan could schedule a long vacation… he had other people to carry out his charism of sowing division

In shorthand: identity issues led to integrity issues, and integrity issues led to trust issues. It’s as old as Genesis 3.

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requesting prayers for a writing project

This summer, I am at long last drafting a novel that I have been brooding over for seventeen years, since I completed the 2002 Act One writing program in Chicago. Once I have the story in novel form, I hope to adapt it into a screenplay.

The screenplay is set in an arena I know intimately – namely, an American Catholic seminary in the 1990s. Given recent developments in the scandals in the Church, the story seems especially timely. This is not a documentary, or a scandal script, per se, but really intended as a theological thriller in the vein of Charles Williams’s novel Descent Into Hell.

As you might imagine, this is rather highly charged material, that has to stare squarely into the face of some very uncomfortable realities. As Flannery O’Connor once wrote in an essay entitled The Church and the Fiction Writer:

A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it…. If the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. An affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God….

It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost. Fiction, made according to its own laws, is an antidote to such a tendency, for it renews our knowledge that we live in the mystery from which we draw our abstractions. The Catholic fiction writer, as fiction writer, will look for the will of God first in the laws and limitations of his art and will hope that if he obeys these, other blessings will be added to his work. The happiest of these, and the one he may at present least expect, will be the satisfied Catholic reader.

I’ve hesitated for a long time to move forward with the project. Only recently have I felt ready (personally) to address this subject in a way that I hope will be redemptive for the audience. At least I know that the story, as it is unfolding, has been redemptive for me.

I plan to first draft the project as a novel, and then work on its adaptation for the screen. (I understand that Graham Greene took this approach with The Third Man).

I’d be grateful if you’d consider keeping this in your prayers. The operative title for the project is Saint Judas.

Pre-work reading includes:

The Third Man – Graham Greene
Goodbye, Good Men – Michael Rose
Ungodly Rage – Donna Steichen
Trojan Horse in the City of God – Dietrich von Hildebrand
Descent into Hell – Charles Williams
The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
Story – Robert McKee

sshhh…. this letter is an open secret

Hi all you fine clerics of Bavaria, just wanted to be sure you received a copy of the letter from the pope emeritus. Translated into English. JCR (aka PB16) greets you cordially, by the way.

Also, Patrick Madrid does a nice job of explaining what it all means. It’s profound, compelling and nutritious. Enjoy!  If you like what you hear, please consider subscribing to his podcast over at Relevant Radio.

Given in Minnesota, on the 12th day of April, 2019, the 49th year of my insertion into the priesthood of all believers.

 

remembering John Paul II

On the fourteenth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death, I thought I’d share the story of the time I got to meet the Pope. Here’s a picture from the moment.

En route to a semester of seminary studies in Jerusalem back in 1996, I spent a week in Rome, and had the chance to see the Pope John Paul II twice… once at a Wednesday audience, and once at a Sunday Mass celebrated at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence.

Meeting the Pope was without question one of the happiest moments of my life. He is the kindest, warmest person I have ever met, to say nothing of his intelligence, virtue and holiness. I have great respect for the man, even from a merely human point of view… and so to meet him, after reading so much of his work, was a real privilege.

The day before I met him, I thought long and hard about what I would say to him. I was wearing a clerical shirt with a Roman collar, so he would already know that I was a seminarian. I couldn’t think of anything for a while, and thought I might tell him my name, where I was from, and show him a picture of my family. But then I decided I needed to keep it simple, because I’d probably just trip over my tongue anyway.

During the Mass, just before I met him, he seemed very frail and weak. But when he walked around afterward, he didn’t seem weak at all. He passed by rather quickly; there was just enough time to make eye contact, and then to reach down to kiss his papal ring. Then he was on to the next person.

I thought I had lost my opportunity to say something to him. But I decided to speak up anyway, even though he had moved on. And so I said, not very loudly, “I love you, Papa.” He heard me, returned to me and took my hand again, looking at me in his gentle way. He then turned to my teacher, a priest on the seminary faculty, and asked with surprise: “Americano?” When my teacher confirmed this, the Pope looked back at me and said, “Good… good.”

I was so grateful for the chance to say these words to the Pope in person. Here he was—the philosopher, the poet, the actor, the pastor, the courageous shepherd, the contemplative, a true friend of God—standing before me, and I was able to express my affection for him. And it wasn’t simply my affection for him, but for the Church he serves, and for Christ from whom he received his commission of service. For me, it was more than a pious sentiment, it was a commitment… to Christ, to the Church, and to him as chief shepherd of the Church.

When my faith grows weak, or when temptation or doubt crowd in, I often bring this moment of commitment before the eyes of my heart. And I remember the way I was sincerely and affectionately received by this giant of our faith. To me, his whole visage proclaims the first words of Christ after the resurrection, and the first words of his papacy: Be not afraid.

the governance of the seminary (part two)

Is there a spirit of harmony and ecclesial communion among the formation faculty members? Do they show a sincere sentire cum Ecclesia? Do they give a good example of priestly living?

Another million-dollar question, which seems applicable to any Catholic institution of higher learning.

As I look back on my seminary experience, this was perhaps the thing that surprised and saddened me the most. In 1994, when I entered, I was naive, passionate about my faith, and to a large extent unaware of the ways in which acedia, pride and politics could turn the Church into a battleground. I had graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville a year earlier, which, for all its merits, does not prepare one for the experience of entering a house divided against itself.

I’ve often described the seminary environment as being like the home of a couple contemplating a divorce. One of the spouses is losing patience with the other, and while unready to pack the bags — for all sorts of reasons — remains on the fringes of the relationship in an attitude of resentment, and the children become pawns in a subtextual battle that is played out on every front. To be a seminarian in the community of the seminary was like being a child in a dysfunctional family, with Rome as one parent and the American Catholic Church as the other.

I often wished that the faculty could put aside their agendas when they stepped into the classroom or when they sat down to write an evaluation of the seminarians, but it really seemed beyond the capacity of some of them. I never found myself, to my knowledge, on the receiving end of hostility from the faculty, which I guess indicates that it was possible to avoid conflict by careful diplomacy. Others were less fortunate, receiving written evaluations with reservations because of things such as a desire to receive Communion on the tongue. One faculty member actually took the evaluation of a classmate as an opportunity to launch a visceral attack on the pastor of the seminarian’s home parish. (To his credit, when notified about this, Archbishop Flynn required the faculty member to make an apology to the pastor).

At any rate, when seminarians feel the need to walk on eggshells, one can’t help the impression that the Gospel mandate of charity has been left on the sidelines. During my leave of absence, I wrote the rector of the seminary and gave him a copy of a book by Cardinal Ratzinger which I felt really spoke to the situation: Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. I thought that an essay at the end of the book, which was a homily delivered by Ratzinger at the seminary in Philadelphia, would be a great centerpiece for a seminary retreat.