Saturday, February 2, 2008

Father Nicanor

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, we're introduced to a priest invited to officiate a wedding in an isolated Mexican village. There are a few noteworthy things from the passages about him:

First Impressions

Father Nicanor Reyna...was an old man hardened by the ingratitude of his ministry. His skin was sad, with the bones almost exposed, and he had a pronounced round stomach and the expression of an old angel, which came more from simplicity than goodness.

You just didn't want to look at this man. How about us? Are we embittered by people's "ingratitude" to the point that a we almost permanently bear a worn, wounded countenance? I think of my own priest, whose face is almost always the polar opposite of this. I look back over the years he has served us and all the ingratitude he inevitably faced. As I get a little older and begin to make my first contacts with the adult world, I appreciate his gift of radiance more and more.

What Value to Do We Add?
Thinking that no land needed the seed of God so much, he decided to stay on for another week...They would answer him that they had been so many years without a priest, arranging the business of their souls directly with God, and that they had lost the evil of original sin.

Reading up to this point - and after it -in the novel, the reader knows that in fact that there was a lot of brokenness in the community. Sin, evil and their consequences had not been wiped away. We who serve the church in the world face the challenge of a world which feels that it's "OK" with God - or without Him. It is this same world that is - perhaps because of this very attitude - full of fragmentation, anxiety, brokenness and hurt. What do we do to enter into this situation - mindful of our own nueroses - as healers? Are we just shoveling something or are we truly serving God and people?

Wrong Focus
Tired of preaching in the open, Father Nicanor decided to undertake the building of a church, the largest in the world, with life-size saints and stained-glass windows...

Rather than courageously work with people intimately, the priest hides himself in a giant project. We see this today: from the mega-church phenomenon to the countless church organizations with their "exectutive boards" and "officers". To be sure, every group - whether secular or religious - needs a place to meet and feel a sense of community and needs some organizational structure. The scandal justifiably comes, though, when the places of meeting and the organizational structures become ends and bury the central message. Perhaps we would be better off with smaller churches and fewer titles.
For a contrast from Father Nicanor, see an article I found on Archbishop Christodolus of Greece, who recently passed away.

No comments: