| Bud Malby | January 17, 2013 | CCMT |
Years ago I heard a humorous story from some friends.
The couple had traveled to Seattle for a convention and went to bed the first night in one of the city’s finer hotels. The wife took her false teeth out and left them in a glass in the bathroom. The next morning, the half asleep husband, looking for a drinking glass picked up the one with the wife’s teeth, and dumped the contents in the toilet. You guessed right, the husband then flushed the toilet.
You can probably imagine the frantic finger walking that transpired, looking for a dentist in the Yellow Pages. Good grief! The last time I called my dentist for an appointment I was told they could schedule me sometime in mid 2014. These folks were in a worse fix, in a strange city where they knew not a soul, most importantly one with dental skills.
Lady luck must have been with them because they were able to rendezvous with a dentist that afternoon. The office was located adjacent to a seedy part of town, reached by a long flight of stairs to an upper level. The couple first thought the elderly gentleman asleep on the waiting room sofa was a customer, but quickly learned otherwise.
The office door’s out of tune chime had barely quit when a receptionist/assistant appeared at the sleeping man’s shoulder, saying, “Wake up honey, wake up honey, your patient is here.” The old man got up and tottered off to the bathroom, and reappeared several moments later.
I won’t bore you with the details of taking impressions for a new set of false teeth, but do swear to you that this is a true story, which was made slap-happy hilarious in its original telling. The entire process took about an hour, and every step was monitored by the dental assistant, who peppered the air with different admonitions to the dentist, like, “No, honey, you have the plate in backwards, pull it out and try again.” Or, when the dentist appeared to be getting fidgety, she said, “Do you need to take another potty break, honey, we’re almost done.”
By some miracle the new set of teeth was delivered to their hotel the next morning. They fit just well enough to get by until their return to Montana. In the meantime, the wife was able to smile showing a full set of teeth, and at least mumble coherently when she couldn’t avoid conversation. She still hasn’t let her husband forget his transgression, and probably never will.
So why does this story have anything to do with the topics you usually read here?
Consider this tiny piece I lifted from a CCMT article on Monday, headlined: The Church Should Listen to its Priests. The quote reads:
“This particular diocese is examining the possibility that parish priests instead of retiring at 75 would, at that age… keep working – for as long as they are able.”
With this in mind, I can easily picture the scene in the dentist’s office being duplicated at a future Sunday liturgy. I’ll risk sounding irreverent by using absurdity to make a point, and mean no disrespect to seniors either, since I’m one of them. Anyhow, the procession for our Sunday Mass begins at the rear of the local Saint Benedict the 16th Church, and proceeds up the main aisle. An extra altar boy (no girls allowed) is on duty to push the wheel chair of the frail celebrant, who grins kindly at nothing in particular.
Mass begins and proceeds methodically. A deacon and an adult altar boy stand on each side of the elderly cleric, making the trio look like a board and priest sandwich. This counters any tendency of Father Alfred to lean toward the point of tip over. Father Alfred is here because at age ninety-one he’s still deemed, “able.”
Things proceed normally until Father intones, “Glory to God in the-the-the-the…” and he stops, looking expectantly at the Deacon.
“Highest!” Deacon Bill whispers softly.
Father Alfred frowns, but says confidently, “Eyemist.”
Fortunately, the congregation is not startled and takes up the recitation. The homily has been avoided. Since the deacon can no longer deliver one, a CD of Archbishop Chaput speaking about mortal sin is used.
Deacon Bill is confident in his special preparations for the consecration. He made up flash cards with large lettering, and when the time comes he will lay them one-by-one in front of Father Alfred. First he reminds the celebrant, “Remember, you have to get the words right or the sacrament won’t work.”
A sardonic smile lights Father’s face, almost giving the impression that he’d like to strangle Deacon Bill. The only other hitch comes when Father Alfred tries to elevate the chalice. “Damned arthritis,” he mutters inaudibly. Never fear, though, as Deacon Bill and the adult altar boy take his arms, steadying each, and slowly raise them, despite the celebrant’s contorted grimace.
Delivery of the bread and wine to the congregation is handled by Deacon Bill, while Father Alfred sits in his wheel chair. He starts to nod off, but suddenly jerks awake and gestures to the youthful altar boy standing behind him. The boy bends down to hear the words, “I need to use the bathroom.”
All in all it was a good day at Saint Benedict the 16th Church. The parishioners leave happy, content with the notion they met their obligation and received the genuine article.
Is this absurdity a likely scenario of the future? I hope not, but consider the Irish diocese’s solution to the priest shortage. It’s disturbing, not to mention an inhumane use of good priests. Good priests who have given everything and are now expected to “stay on” past seventy-five – if able. And who, I would ask decides the “able?”
I shudder to think what the Vatican might do in the future to stem the so called priest shortage. I label the shortage, so called; because in my view there is none. You may think I’m leading up to married priests or the right of women to be ordained, but I’m not. I believe any shortage is a result of Rome’s own teaching about Eucharist, which can be summed up in six little words. Therein is the root of the problem.
Those six little words are: NO PRIESTS – NO EUCHARIST – NO CHURCH! I’m sure traditional Catholics believe that priests receive some magical power to mediate between them and God, especially being able to generate Eucharist. My experience also tells me that many Catholics, leaning toward the “progressive,” waver on the subject.
What if instead of trying to remedy a priest shortage, the Church did away with the necessity of priests? HERESY? Perhaps not, if you consider what their proper role might be. I’ll conclude with some advice given by Michael Morwood in his book, From Sand to Solid Ground.
“Let us shift our theology and ritual that insist priests are necessary for bringing God’s presence to people’s lives. Let us explore what it means to be living in love and in God – and the role of the priest in this task.
“How might we effectively break from the present system of clerical control? The most effective means at present is for Catholics to gather in small groups to discuss their faith and to ritualize it – These small groups can explore and experiment with ritual language that is not linked with fall-redemption theology. They can find language that is more expressive of God’s universal presence. People can gather around the story of Jesus and in sharing bread and wine in his memory commit themselves to allow the Spirit that moved so freely in Jesus’ life to be expressed more generously in their lives.”
As you ponder this, the universe and other great things this week, don’t forget the practical, like a safe place for your false teeth.