This is Part III of a recently started series about on-going personal conversion. Part I started us off with thoughts from a vision of St. Catherine of Siena. Part II continued with words of a Franciscan friar giving an intelligence brief on our adversary. What follows is either miraculous or not depending on how you view things.
I say miraculous, in at least a minor way, because a) until today, I had never heard of this passage I’m sharing now, and b) the timing of the find is uncanny. How, pray tell, did I “find” it? It all started a few weeks ago when I picked up volume one of the Norton Anthology of English Literature for $4.00 at a flea market about an hour from my home. In mint condition, and weighing in at 2074 pages, folks who like math will delight in the fact that I paid a whopping .001344989 cents per page for it. It’s chock full o’ Catholic classics too.
What does this have to do with personal conversion? Boatloads. As Qoheleth, the inspired writer of my favorite Old Testament book says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That includes scandals involving priests. They will come, and they will go. None of us have seen the last of them, and persevere through them, we must. And despite some folks thinking that questioning priests, and holding them accountable, turns the faithful into members of the “brood of vipers and evil doers” section of the flock, I believe this story shows the opposite to be true.
So this morning, with no intention whatsoever of my own, I picked up this weighty tome I acquired so cheaply and randomly flipped it open to find myself on page 374. There, I happened upon the following tale that beckoned me with the heading Examination Before the Archbishop and started with the following words,
There was a monk should preach in York, the which had heard much slander and much evil language of the said creature.
Uh?, I thought. Do tell! Having never heard of Margery Kempe, I just plunged onward through this story as if I had entered a time machine and was whisked back to the days when England was still Catholic. Margery, it turns out, was a contemporary of St. Julian of Norwich and is honored in the Anglican Communion. She lived in Norwich, married at the age of 20, and had 14 children. She remained a member of the laiety, and yet was ahead of her time in recognizing her calling to the “royal priesthood” that St. Peter describes in his first letter to the faithful (1 Peter 2:9).
Be advised that this is a bit long, so go get a glass of your favorite beverage, or head to the loo, before you wade in. Ready? Enjoy…
from The Book of Margery Kempe
Examination before the Archbishop
There was a monk should preach in York, the which had heard much slander and much evil language of the said creature. And, when he should preach, there was much multitude of people to hear him, and she (Margery) present with them. And so, when he was in his sermon, he rehearsed many matters so openly that the people conceived well it was for cause of her, wherefore her friends that loved her well were full sorry and heavy thereof, and she was much the more merry, for she had matter to prove [test] her patience and her charity wherethrough she trusted to please Our Lord Christ Jesus.
When the sermon was done, a doctor of divinity which loved her well with many others also came to her and said,
“Margery, how have ye done this day?”
“Sir,” she said, “right well, blessed be God. I have cause to be right merry and glad in my soul that I may any thing suffer for his love, for he suffered much more for me.”
Anon after came a man which loved her right well of good will with his wife and others more, and led her seven miles thence to the Archbishop of York, and brought her into a fair chamber, where came a good clerk, saying to the good man which had brought her thither, “Sir, why have ye and your wife brought this woman hither? She shall steal away from you, and then shall ye have a villainy of her.”
The good man said, “I dare well say she will abide and be at her answer with good will.”
On the next day she was brought into the Archbishop’s chapel, and there came many of the Archbishop’s meiny, despising her, calling her “loller” and “heretic,” and swearing many an horrible oath that she should be burnt. And she, through the strength of Jesus, said again to them,
“Sirs, I dread me ye shall be burnt in hell without end unless than ye amend you of your oaths swearing, for ye keep not the commandments of God. I would not swear as ye do for all the good of this world.”
Then they gedyn [went] away as they had been ashamed. She then, making her prayer in her mind, asked grace so to be demeaned that day as was most pleasant to God and profit to her own soul and good example to her evyn [fellow] Christians. Our Lord, answering her, said it should be right well.
At the last the said Archbishop came into the chapel with his clerks, and sharply he said to her,
“Why goest thou in white? Art thou a maiden?”
She, kneeling on her knees before him, said, “Nay, sir, I am no maiden; I am a wife.”
He commanded his meiny to fetch a pair of fetters and said she should be fettered, for she was a false heretic. And then she said,
“I am no heretic, nor ye shall none prove me.”
The Archbishop went away and let her stand alone. Then she made her prayers to our Lord God almighty for to help her and succour her against all her enemies, ghostly and bodily, a long while, and her flesh trembled and quaked wonderly that she was fain to put her hands under her clothes that it should not be aspied.
Since the Archbishop came again into the chapel with many worthy clerks, amongst which was the same doctor (of theology) which had examined her before and the monk that had preached against her a little time before in York. Some of the people asked whether she were a Christian woman or a Jew; Some said she was a good woman, and Some said nay.
Then the Archbishop took his see [ecclesiastical seat], and his clerks also, each of them in his degree, much people being present. And in the time while the people was gathering together and the Archbishop taken his see, the said creature stood all behind, making her prayers for help and succour against her enemies with high devotion so long that she melted all into tears. And at the last she cried loud therewith, that the Archbishop and his clerks and much people had great wonder of her, for they had not heard such crying before.
When her crying was passed, she came before the Archbishop and fell down on her knees, the Archbishop saying full boisterously unto her,
“Why weapest thou so, woman?”
She, answering, said, “Sir, ye shall will some day that ye had wept as sore as I.”
And then anon, after the Archbishop put to her the Articles of our Faith (the Apostle’s Creed), to the which God gave her grace to answer well and truly and readily without any great study so that he might not blame her, then he said to the clerks,
“She knows her faith well enough. What shall I do with her?”
The clerks said, “We know well that she can the Articles of the Faith, but we will not suffer her to dwell among us, for the people have great faith in her dalliance, and peradventure she might pervert some of them.”
Then the Archbishop said unto her, “I am evil informed of thee; I hear said thou art a right wicked woman.”
And she said again, “Sir, so I hear said that ye are a wicked man. And,if ye be as wicked as men say, ye shall never come in heaven unless than ye amend you while ye be here.”
Then said he full boisterously, “Why, thou, what say men of me?”
She answered, “Other men, sir, can tell you well enough.”
Then said a great clerk with a furred hood, “Peace, thou speak of thyself and let him be.”
Since said the Archbishop to her, “Lay thine hand on the book here before me and swear that thou shall go out of my diocese as soon as thou may.”
“Nay, sir,” she said, “I pray you, give me leave to go again into York to take my leave of my friends.”
Then he gave her leave for one day or two. She thought it was too short a time, wherefore she said again,
“Sir, I may not go out of this diocese so hastily, for I must tarry and speak with good men ere I go, and I must, sir, with your leave, go to Birdlington and speak with my confessor, a good man, the which was the good prior’s (St. John of Birdlington) confessor that is now canonized.”
Then said the Archbishop to her, “thou shall swear that thou shalt not teach nor challenge the people in my diocese.”
“Nay, sir, I shall not swear,” she said, “for I shall speak of God and undirnemyn [reprove] them that swear great oaths wheresoever I go unto the time that the Pope and Holy Church have ordained that no man shall be so hardy to speak of God, for God all mighty forbids not, sir, that we shall speak of him. And also the gospel makes mention that, when the woman had heard Our Lord preach, she came before him with a loud voice and said, `Blessed be the womb that thee bore and the tits that gave the suck.’ Then our Lord said again to her, `Forsooth so are they blessed that hear the word of God and keep it.’ And therefore, sir, me thinks that the gospel gives me leave to speak of God.”
“A sir,” said the clerks, “here wot[know] we well that she hath a devil within her, for she speaks of the gospel.”
As such a great clerk brought forth a book and laid Saint Paul for his party against her that no woman should preach. She, answering thereto, said,
“I preach not, sir, I come in no pulpit. I use but communication and good words, and that will I do while I live.”
Then said a doctor which had examined her beforetime, “Sir, she told me the worst tales of priests that ever I heard.”
The bishop commanded her to tell that tale.
Stand-by for one of the best parables I have ever read. Everything prior, though a bit tedious, has set the stage for the following stunner. Read on me hearties!
|Peach Tree in Bloom
Vincent Van Gogh
“Sir, with your reverence, I spoke but of one priest by the manner of example, the which as I have learned went wild in a wood through the sufferance of God for the profit of his soul til the night came upon him. He, destitute of his herborwe [lodging], found a fair arbor in the which he rested that night, having a fair pear tree in the midst all flourished with flowers and embellished, and blooms full delectable to his sight, where came a bear, great and boisterous, hugely to behold, shaking the pear tree and felling down the flowers. Greedily this grevious beast ate and devoured those fair flowers. And, when he had eaten them, turning his tail end in the priest’s presence, voided them out again at the hinder part.
The priest, having great abomination of that loathly sight, conceiving great heaviness for doubt what it might mean, on the next day he wandered forth in his way all heavy and pensive, whom it fortuned to meet with a seemly aged man like to a palmer or a pilgrim, the which enquired of the priest the cause of his heaviness. The priest, rehearsing the matter before written, said he conceived great dread and heaviness when he beheld that loathly beast defoul and devour so fair flowers and blooms and afterward so horribly to devoid them before him at his tail end, and he not understanding what this might mean.
Then the palmer, showing himself the messenger of God, thus areasoned him,
“Priest, thou thyself art the pear tree, somedeal flourishing and flowering through thy service saying and the sacraments ministering, though thou do undevoutly, for thou take full little heed how thou says thy matins and thy service, so it be blabbered to an end. Then go thou to thy mass without devotion, and for thy sin hast thou full little contrition. Thou receivest there the fruit of everlasting life, the sacrament of the altar, in full feeble disposition.
“Since all the day after thou misspendest thy time, thou give thee to buying and selling, chopping and changing [bargaining and exchanging], as it were a man of the world. Thou sittest at the ale, giving the to glotony and excess, to lust of thy body, through lechery and uncleanness. Thou breakest the commandments of God through swearing, lying, detraction, and backbiting, and such other sins using. Thus by thy misgovernance, like onto the loathly bear, thou devourest and destroyest the flowers and blooms of virtuous living to thine endless damnation and many man’s hindering less than thou have grace of repentance and amending.”‘
Then the Archbishop liked well the tale and commended it, saying it was a good tale. And the clerk which had examined her beforetime in the absence of the Archbishop, said,
“Sir, this tale smites me to the heart.”
The foresaid creature said to the clerk, “Ah, worshipful doctor, sir, in place where my dwelling is most, is a worthy clerk, a good preacher, which boldly speaks against the misgovernance of the people and will flatter no man. He says many times in the pulpit, `If any man be evil pleased with my preaching, note him well, for he is guilty.’
And right so, sir,” said she to the clerk, “fare ye by me, God forgive it you.”
The clerk wist [knew] not well what he might say to her. Afterward the same clerk came to her and prayed her of forgiveness that he had so been against her. Also he prayed her specially to pray for him. And than anon after the Archbishop said,
“Where shall I have a man that might lead this woman from me?”
As swithe [immediately] there started up many young men, and every man said of them, “My Lord, I will go with her.”
The Archbishop answered, “Ye be too young; I will not have you.”
Then a good sad [of sober continence] man of the Archbishop’s meiny asked his Lord what he would give him and he should lead her. The Archbishop proferred him five shillings and the man asked a noble. The Archbishop, answering, said,
“I will not waryn [spend] so much on her body.”
“Yes, good sir,” said the said creature, “our Lord shall reward you right well again.”
Then the Archbishop said to the man, “See, here is five shillings, and lead her fast out of this country.”
She, kneeling down on her knees, asked his blessing. He, praying her to pray for him, blessed her and let her go.
Than she, going again to York, was received of much people and of full worthy clerks, which enjoyed in our Lord that had given her not lettred wit and wisdom to answer so many learned men without villainy or blame, thanking be to God.
And that’s all for today, dear reader. For more on Margery Kempe, see this new volume added to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf: The Cell of Self-Knowledge.
A reader writes,
Wow, hey Frank are you really a Christian? Do you actually receive communion with a clear conscience? Do you enjoy stomping on a priest when he’s down? That goes for the the other un-Christian commentors above too.
My Christian brother, you are a few posts behind (see this and this)but let me just say that if St. Nicholas could punch Arias in the face at the Council of Nicea, and still be a Christian, then yes…I can say I am really a Christian too.
Unfortunately, you don’t seem to recognize that our brother is in direct violation of the orders of his superior. In other words there are two options here: a)rally behind the mutineer,or b) rally behind the Church.
I choose b).
Agape your neighbor as yourself. I have children and when they disobey me, I don’t just “let it go” or “pray for them,” but out of love and duty, I set them straight too. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it is necessary. I did the same thing in the Marine Corps with juniors, peers, and even superior officers. It’s called providing counsel, even when it isn’t asked for. That too is agape.
From your comment, it seems that you believe that Catholic priests are above reproach, and that Holy Orders is a sort of “get out of Jail Free” card. Surely, after all the the scandals that have roiled the Church since 2002, you don’t believe this. And yet now that the fellow you thought was the best thing since sliced bread has gone and been exposed to have fallen, he is now attempting to lure away the faithful. All while being ordered to return to the fold. He needs to be held accountable for his actions, yet he refuses to do so. So, in your estimation(?) I should just assault heaven with prayers for him and let it be.
Christian love is many splendored and multi-faceted. In all charity, the only charitable thing to say to John Corapi now is what I said in my previous post,
Obviously the best thing to do would be for him to obey, return to base, and stand the ecclesiastical version of a court-martial.
If I was foundering in the same way, I would hope that others, such as yourself, would agape me enough to say what I needed to hear to get my head screwed on straight. Not just egg me on towards the abyss with brave words and “you can do it!” And “We stand behind you!” Thanks, but no thanks.
I’d prefer you had enough agape for me to say what this reader on the Corapi’s site said,
“John, you need to rethink your approach. You sound like a dry drunk, full of self-righteousness and blame. That you fell—who cares? You’re just a guy. That you’ve behaved this way after you got caught? That’s another thing. Cling to the misguided support of some of these folks posting, if you must. But there are plenty of recovering men out here who know stinking thinking when we hear it. We love you, and want you to repent, but we aren’t falling for any of this posturing. May God be with you, and may you listen to Him before it’s too late.”
That is the kind of counseling that John Corapi needs to hear now.
Why can’t I just turn away from the John Corapi story and leave it behind? All I can figure is that it is like the aftermath of a ferry boat accident. There are a lot of passengers that are still in the water and I have the conn of a lifeboat.
Or it’s like I’ve happened upon the scene of a passenger train wreck, and I’m stepping into the role of the Good Samaritan. I don’t know how effective I will be, but I’m trying to help move survivors back to safety.
As for John Corapi himself, it appears more and more to me that he has done as Shakespeare’s lines in Hamlet state: hoisted himself on his own petard. Perhaps he feels, though, that he is Hamlet reciting these lines,
There’s letters seal’d: and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang’d,
They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard; and ‘t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon: O, ’tis most sweet,
When in one line two crafts directly meet.
–Hamlet Act 3, scene 4, 202–209
No matter. His orders from his superior are clear and he is in direct violation of them. Obviously the best thing to do would be for him to obey, return to base, and stand the ecclesiastical version of a court-martial. But that isn’t happening, as Deacon Greg’s latest synopsis clearly shows.
Leaving the errant messenger, then, I give you Johnny Cash. Johnny knows addiction, pain, and hurt. So Johnny, the muse, can help assuage your wounds now. These songs may help as he points you toward the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who also felt the betrayal that you feel now. The Lamb of God took that burden all the way to hell and back.
Sing it Johnny,
Ring of Fire.
I See A Darkness.
Why Me Lord?
Dom Lou Tseng-Tsiang once wrote this about the faith,
In every period of transition the two opposing currents are very violent. To escape from them, one must be prepared to be judged unfavorably by both. So one must learn to be alone. The Christian life, for its part, does not escape this rule. Our Lord Jesus Christ is so often all alone on His Cross.
And by reader request (thanks!),
Haul yourself into the lifeboat and head back to the barque of St. Peter.
I hadn’t intended to write another word about John Corapi. In fact, I even closed off the comments in my recent post and left readers links to follow the story so I could just enjoy my Father’s Day in peace. That was the plan, anyway.
But I received an e-mail this morning from a Catholic priest upset over my “Mr. Corpai Goes. I Stay” post. As you will find in the sidebar, I subscribe to the well known Welborn Protocol when it comes to correspondence. So here is the note in it’s entirety followed by my reply.
Your comments regarding Fr. Corapi are remarkably cruel. Once an accusation is made, the priest is automatically suspended period. The suspension is indefinite. It is not the priest’s choice in any way. He may not wear clerical garb, use any honorific titles, preach or engage in any sort of sacramental ministry. The priest is at a disadvantage from the get-go and rarely if ever is vindicated. Thank the good Lord Corapi is a religious in that he can return to his community so he has a place to live and food. Diocesan priests in his situation do not have that to fall back on.
The magnitude of the injustice is hard to fathom. Everyone has a right to his reputation and his good name.
Whether or not Fr. Corapi’s message, style, and ministry appealed to you is beside the point. Yes, life will indeed go on whether or not he is preaching, etc. But to write in such a cavalier fashion about a priest’s life and ministry that is now thoroughly destroyed is really mean spirited.
You do no service to the Faith by writing as you did regarding Fr. Corapi.
In His Name,
Dear Father B,
I appreciate your note, though I am at a loss to see how I was as “cruel” with Corapi as you feel I was. Actually, I didn’t even get warmed up. Indeed, the post that I believe you are referring to is only the second time I have ever even written about the Corapi kurfuffle.
|Help a brother out!|
In the first instance, I wrote a lay pastoral note, if there is such a thing, to those who followed him, giving them suggestions on how to spend their time strengthening their life of faith. I hope you do not find fault with that. Surely brothers and sisters in the faith must encourage one another when the going get’s rocky.
And in Corapi’s case, he knows who his accuser is. He’s said so repeatedly, and even said in his latest announcement that she is “the one person that I can honestly say I did more to help and support than any human being in my entire life.” Honesty, after all, is the best policy. As for the investigation process, I look to others for guidance. I humbly know my limitations.
I’m just a simple man, Fr. B, and a relatively new Catholic. One of the many things that impresses me about Catholic priests and religious is that they take vows of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. They sacrifice much for the reward of leading people in the faith. The priests bring us the Sacraments, so that our travail in this valley of tears through life on earth are made bearable. Thanks be to God for this.
Later on, I learned that not all priests take the vow of poverty. Though most Diocesan priests aren’t exactly wealthy, some are. Either way, the same safety net that is extended to every citizen of this country is extended to priests and religious as well. Unemployment compensation, Social Security, etc. All are covered, including unemployed priests. I’m not sure if Mr. Corapi qualifies for unemployment now that he has resigned from the priesthood though. I think you actually have to lose your job for a different reason than quitting it in order to collect unemployment compensation. I could be wrong on this.
Anyhow, as the Corapi kerfuffle continued to unfold, I ran into other stories about how not only did Corapi not take a vow of poverty, but that he set up a “for-profit” media empire instead. That he lived in a sumptuous mansion and estate out West. Owning multiple homes and, for all I know, maybe he has a private helicopter too. Granted, I don’t know whether these stories are all true or not (I hope the truth all comes to light somehow), but I understand that the order he was affiliated with, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, basically didn’t make a single penny from all of the books, tapes, and speaking engagements that he sold over the course of his career as a Catholic priest.
|Feed me $$$, sheep.|
As a rookie lay Catholic, I’m not sure why anyone in the Church heirarchy would give any priest carte blanch to make a ton of money off the flock, you know, Elmer Gantry style, that didn’t somehow wind up helping the poor in Mother Teresa’s mission field, or in some other way that helped spread the Good News to the world. This raises serious questions in my mind. Questions that I hope those who are better versed, and who have deeper knowledge in these matters than I, pursue and bring to resolution. I’m just Joe Six-Pack, USMC. At best, all I can do is handle ridiculous pseudo-dramas like this in a cavalier manner.
As the drama continued to spin, frequently from late Friday afternoon Scud missiles launched from Corapi’s lair at Santa Cruz Media, there were other things I heard as time went on. Like when someone in the past had busted Corapi’s chops when he had claimed to have enlisted in the Army with a guarantee for Special Forces training. But, as the Corapi version of the story goes, due to a training accident (an unlikely one involving a helicopter) he wound up as a clerk-typist in Germany instead, making outstanding clerk-typists, who serve in the military with honor the world over, look bad in the bargain. If this episode, claiming Special Forces training and black-belt fighting skills, etc. is true Father, then it is just plain wrong.
News flash: No one enlists with guarantees for Special Forces training. Not in my military experience anyway. No, first you endure all the regular training, spend some time in your specialty, and only then can you apply for, and appear before selection boards for, special duties like I did when I became a Marine Security Guard. Anyone who claims that they were guaranteed the Green Beret in the local Army recruiters office definitely does not pass the “smell test.” That is unless you’re looking for the “Stinky Cheese Man.” I am not.
So now, a short three months later, the world learns that Corapi is giving up his vocation as a Catholic priest, and instead is launching a new, and I reckon “improved,” venture with a new name and a creepy photograph of a (dyed?) black canine eyeing sheep and wolves with equally malevolent stares. So I said what you perceived as a cruel thing:
As for me and my house, we won’t be waiting for salvation via Pirate Radio broadcasts from Mr. John Corapi anytime soon. We’ve better things to do. And better speeches to read.
|Happy Fathers Day!|
Guess what else we won’t be doing? Buying his books and tapes to hear his side of the story. You know how the Dark Lord monologue will go. On and on about how he has been unjustly treated by the evil bishops who felt threatened by his zeal for all the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty™ (registered trademark by BlackDogUp! Enterprises) that he was bringing to the flock. Time for a reprise of my other cruel remark:
Have a listen to this classic by Nick Lowe before moving on to the next segment of my reply, if you please.
Yes indeed, I reckon sometimes we must be cruel to be kind, in the right measure. Get angry a bit, because it is no sin to get angry. Christ was angered when the temple was being used as a marketplace. As the scriptures note, He broke out a whip and scrambled that egg with a wrath that cleaned house rather dramatically. Would have made a big impression on me, if I would have witnessed it. That’s for sure.
|Eyes like these|
No Father B., I was not cruel. I was not even angered by what John Corapi did. I didn’t sit around expectantly on the edge of my seat for these past three months waiting to see what the “last hope for our Church” would do next. Why? To quote a speech I heard recently,
It’s that dead look in my eyes, from all the horrors that I have seen, so I’m sort of immune to it. Gentlemen to bed! Gentlemen to bed, for we leave at first light. Tomorrow we battle. We may lose our lives, but remember…Death is but a moment; cowardice is a lifetime affliction.
Yeah, that is a made up speech from a silly movie, but rousing nonetheless. But St. Paul’s words from a few days back are the ones that stand us in good stead and last forever. I shared those too, in my alleged cruelty as you may recall,
dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city,
dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea,
dangers among false brothers;
Is John Corapi a false brother? I don’t know. He’s not a member of the priesthood any longer, that is for sure. Is he still a Catholic, loyal to the Magisterium? I don’t know that either. He’s kind of vague on that in his announcement. All that is known for sure points to him not being loyal to anyone but himself. Not to his (former) office as a priest (while you soldier on, my brother!), not to his superiors, nor to his order, and not even to his flock of followers, who at last count on his Facebook fan page, stand at 52,800+ souls.
|I wear my gray hair proudly|
In fact, to my simple mind and simple ways, the cruelest cut of all came from the blow Mr. Corapi’s announcement made to his large and loyal flock of followers. Simple folk, such as myself, who believed in this man. Now what is in store for them Father B? Should they stay loyal to Mother Church? Or follow the Black Sheep Dog, who for all we know will hit them next with a message such as this,
He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up! Prepare to alter course!
—Khan Noonien Singh, in Star Trek II, riffing off Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.
No. I won’t be following any comic book characters anywhere Father. Not Darth Vader, not Dr. Evil, Not Kahn nor Captain Ahab. I follow Jesus Christ and His Church. I’m loyal to Him and to Her. I’ll continue to study His Word, and His message. That way, see, when somebody goes off-message, I’ll be able to recite with clarity and authority, these words of an immortal soldier,
Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him completely and sincerely. Cast out the gods your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” —Joshua 24:14-15.
Thank you again for your note. Have a happy Fathers Day and a blessed Holy Trinity Sunday. Please pray for me and for all who have been affected by this unfortunate incident. I am,
His Obedient Servant,
Breaking News: Corapi’s superior: “We wanted him to come back to the community…”
All of you who have never heard of the Ribbon Creek Incident, say “aye!”
Now, all of you who remember those pesky SAT analogy questions that went like this,
apple is to tree, as fish is to _________. a) Christians; b) water; c) sharks; d) pole
I hope when reading that expression, you went with “b” as your answer.
Otherwise, I’m going to have to take all of you out as a group to the sand pit behind the squad bay and p.t. the lot of you until you can see yourself in the reflection of your own pool of sweat. Black Flag conditions be damned!
If you haven’t guessed it by now, this post is being brought to you by my alter-ego, Joe Six-Pack, USMC. Remember the first time he showed up? And as the poor, hapless, civilians that you are, I (he?) probably lost many of you by using the jargon that every Marine knows like a second language. And I’m not gonna give you the scuttlebutt on those terms either. That is what Google is for! Go look up the words you didn’t understand on your own.
So, where in the world is this post going? Well, Archbishop Dolan recently said something very wise regarding the sexual abuse scandals that have occurred aboard His Majesty’s Ship. To paraphrase His Excellency, he says we can never forget.
So what is the Ribbon Creek Incident and what does it have to do with the Church? The Ribbon Creek Incident took place in 1956 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in lovely Parris Island, South Carolina. P.I., see, is across the Port Royal Sound from it’s polar opposite, Hilton Head Island. The one is where Marines are made, and the other is where tourists forget their cares for a week or so. It’s analogy refresher time.
Hilton Head Island is to Heaven as Parris Island is to ___________ a)Fort Dix, b)Fantasy Island, c) the Emerald Isle, d)Hell.
You guys are getting better at this, but you’re still too slow. Yes, this time “d” is the correct answer.
On April 8, 1956 at approximately 20:00 (that’s 8:00 PM) a Drill Instructor named Staff Sergeant Matthew McKeon took his platoon of recruits on a little punitive march into the wetlands around Ribbon Creek. Six of his recruits didn’t make it out because they drowned. And that is when the Marine Corps started aggressively fixing the problem of overzealous Drill Instructors destroying the raw material for the finest fighting force the world has ever known.
Would the Mothers of America continue to allow their boys to become Marines if sadistic D.I’s killed them in the process before they had even earned the title? That is highly unlikely. Just a few short years before this incident, the First Marine Division destroyed 8 Chinese Red Army divisions during it’s fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir to the coast at Hungnam. And don’t forget the successful, though brutal, island hopping campaign in the Pacific during the recently concluded World War. Would you believe this storied history was sullied by the disaster at Ribbon Creek? The tabloids were having a field day, as were the mainline newspapers.
In reaction to the incident, did the leadership of the Corps cover it up? Not no, but hell no! Because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that recruitment would be harmed by more incidents like this. And thus, national security would be put at risk.
Another institutional perspective that caused the leadership to act swiftly to correct abuse of recruits in training was the ever threatening prospect of the dissolution of the Marine Corps altogether. Lot’s of bright, well meaning folks continued to point out how redundant it was to even have a Marine Corps. These whiz kids could always break out ideas, and the budget numbers to support them, for folding the Corps into the Army, Navy, and that new-fangled branch called the Air Force.
Do you think I’m kidding? Check out this quote from an Amazon review of John C. Steven’s book Court-Marshal at Parris Island:The Ribbon Creek Incident,
An extremely informative & detailed read! Stevens iterates a tragic event in Marine Corps history with a direct, thought provoking style. As the current Commanding Officer of the Recruit Training Regiment at Parris Island, I am encouraging my officers & drill instructors to read this book in order to better understand how close we, the Marine Corps, as an organization, came to being disestablished because of the actions of just one man.
Another book of interest on the same subject matter is Keith Fleming’s, “The U.S. Marine Corps in Crisis: Ribbon Creek & Recruit Training.” That is another important book in helping to understand how the recruit training process has evolved.
So being entrepreneurial, and forward looking, and bent on survival, you see, the Marine Corps changed. You can read all about it in the two books mentioned above by the Colonel, as well as briefly over at Wikipedia. But suffice it to say, for the purposes of the simple analogy I have proposed here, that the Marine Corps decided to fix the problem ASAP. The Corps moved swiftly to address this issue. Now true, the actions taken would never bring these dead recruits back to life, and never restore them to their families. However, the Corps takes care of her own, and changes were made at every level to insure that these six young men did not die in vain.
Now, swiftly is a relative term. It took years, nay, decades for Headquarters Marine Corps to effect institutional changes to successfully prevent on-going abuse of recruits. Ribbon Creek was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the immediate actions the Marine Corps took only began the long, slow, crawl away from the abyss of institutional extinction. I was at Parris Island in 1981, and by that time many training changes had been put in place. Ribbon Creek happened 25 years before I arrived on the Island, and yet the institution continued to tune and fine tune the process of how Marines are made for another 20 years after I graduated. I would argue that the transformation in recruit training from the time of the incident in 1956, and the amount of time that elapsed until its gruesome effects on the reputation of the Marine Corps subsided, is about 40 years.
So by no stretch of the imagination am I saying that the Church is in the 9th inning of the game here. If anything, She is in the second inning, and for all we know, she may be playing a double-header. But I can tell you this assuredly. The Marine Corps never forgot Ribbon Creek, just as surely as she never forgot Belleau Wood, Tarawa, or Iwo Jima. Nowadays, training recruits isn’t done by the seat of the pants, but it is done as 1/4 art and 3/4 science. To even become a Drill Instructor nowadays is one of the hardest schools to successfully complete as an enlisted Marine. The future of the Corps depends on high quality recruits being successfully transformed into high quality Marines, by impeccably qualified Drill Instructors and Officers. Mistakes still occur, but the organization is intent on discovery of personnel problems. Transparency is the rule.
And that’s it folks. Joe Six-Pack, USMC’s analogy is complete.
The Ribbon Creek Incident is to the Marine Corps, as the Sexual Abuse Crisis is to the Roman Catholic Church.
It isn’t pretty, and it won’t be quick, but the change that has to come about to identify the causes of the sexual abuse crisis, identify the parties involved in propagating it, rooting out and turning over to authorities those who engaged in this criminal behavior, has arrived.
With leaders like Archbishop Dolan, and Pope Benedict XVI at the helm, I have confidence that the changes and procedures needed to root out abusive priests, and keep them out going forward, are being developed and will be implemented, and they will continue to evolve. Like the Marine Corps and Ribbon Creek, the Church must never forget is right! And might I remind you that this means us lay Catholics especially. We must be ever vigilant going forward, much like the passengers on Flight 93 were back in 2001. It took everyone in the Marine Corps, from the Commandant to the lowliest Privates, and every rank in between, to change the culture of the Corps after Ribbon Creek. Similarly, this participation at every level will be required by Mother Church if indeed She is to avoid the lee-shore of scandal that she found herself heading towards. “All Hands, Prepare to Wear Ship!” is the command, and incidentally, you are one of the hands, savvy?
And if the leadership needs an example for best practices in this department, please feel free to forward this post to Headquarters, er, I mean the Vatican. You might even recommend Dr. Zimbardo’s book too.
There are scandals, and rumors of scandals and there always will be. To be tainted by scandal, whether you are wrongly accused or guilty, is really a no-win situation. How does one take on the burden of this situation?
Christ was wrongly accused and He barely said a word to defend himself. But others have been wrongly accused and have borne their accusations in a similar manner.
One of my favorite examples of this is from an episode in the life of my patron, St. Macarius the Great. I can’t even begin to fathom the depth of this Desert Father’s humility, renunciation, and faith. Accused of sexual misconduct, Sister Benedicta Ward translates this episode in the saints life in her book Selections From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
Abba Macarius said this about himself:
‘When I was young and was living in a cell in Egypt, they took me as a cleric in the village. Because I did not wish to receive this dignity, I fled to another place. Then a devout layman joined me; he sold my manual work for me and served me.
Now it happened that a virgin in the village, under weight of temptation, committed sin. When she became pregnant, they asked her who was to blame. She said, “the anchorite.”
Then they came to seize me, led me to the village and hung pots black with soot and various other things around my neck and led me through the village in all directions, beating me and saying, “This monk has defiled our virgin, catch him, catch him” and they beat me almost to death.
Then one of the old men came and said: “What are you doing, how long will you go on beating this strange monk?” The man who served me was walking behind me, full of shame, for they covered him with insults too, saying, “Look at this anchorite, for whom you stood surety; what has he done?”
The girl’s parents said, “Do not let him go till he has given pledge that he will keep her.” I spoke to my servant and he vouched for me. Going to my cell, I gave him all the baskets I had, saying, “Sell them, and give my wife something to eat.”
Then I said to myself, “Macarius, you have found yourself a wife; you must work a little more in order to keep her.” So I worked night and day and sent my work to her. But when the time came for the wretch to give birth, she remained in labor many days without bringing forth, and they said to her, “What is the matter?”
She said, “I know what it is, it is because I slandered the anchorite, and accused him unjustly; it is not he who is to blame, but such and such young man.” Then the man who served me was full of joy saying, “The virgin could not give birth until she said ‘The anchorite had nothing to do with it, but I have lied about him.’ The whole village wants to come here solemnly and do penance before you.”
But when I heard this, for fear people would disturb me, I got up and fled here to Scetis. That is the original reason why I came here.’
See what I mean? Is that not the most amazing, most Christ-like lowering of oneself that you have read, short of the trial of Our Lord? Short of the prophet’s words in Psalm 22?
But I am a worm, hardly human,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me
Who accepts blame like this when wrongly accused nowadays? With humility? With quiet reserve and with faith that the truth will come to light and set them free? This reminds me of something that Sun Tzu, in his Art of War wrote, five centuries before Christ was crucified, and eight centuries before Abba Macarius endured this calumny,
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
That is the truth. May it ever be so. And as for the example of Abba Macarius, Sister Benedicta shares this anecdote in Paradise of the Desert Fathers,
They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became, as it is written, a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world, so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.
Another very Christ-like character trait. Abba Macarius, Pray for us.
You will find Sister Benedicta Ward’s book on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.
Update: For Stuff My Abba Macarius Says
Late yesterday evening, after I asked for your prayers for Egypt, I clicked over to New Advent to see what was posted there on the situation on the ground. Many of you know that besides being the electronic host of the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent also posts links to other Catholic websites and blogs for noteworthy news stories or posts. New Advent has graciously posted our blog posts from time to time as well.
But a different sort of story caught my eye instead. [Read more...]