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The Sacraments are for Men and Women

Eugene Kennedy
Eugene Kennedy speaks to a sellout crowd at October FutureChurch dinner.

By Barbara Grants

Sacramenta Propter Homines means that the sacraments are for men and women—to be poured into their laps, full measure, to nourish them, to sustain them. This beautiful vision of our faith, older than Vatican II, formed the centerpiece of Dr. Eugene Kennedy’s presentation to nearly 500 people who attended the FutureChurch annual dinner last October.

He believes that this vision has been taken over by a bookkeeper mentality in the hierarchy and that the hierarchical mind and a true sense of sacramentality are not compatible. Out of hierarchical ordering found nowhere in the Gospel or in the basic Christian tradition, human beings have been found guilty on all counts of being human, often condemned as grave sinners for their thoughts and feelings. This, he suggested, is the real crisis of our age, not that of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, which is but a symptom of this larger crisis. True sacramentality involves the belief that all reality, both animate and inanimate is potentially the bearer of God’s presence and the instrument of God’s saving activity on humanity’s behalf. Lacking an understanding of this Catholic sacramental sense, religious leaders for centuries have made people feel uneasy, even guilty, about being human.

The misperception of the human person, dividing the personality into good and bad, flesh and spirit, also expresses itself in unhealthy models of church, creating an unhealthy culture that mistakes the inhuman for the divine. Dr. Kennedy asked why we are surprised that these unhealthy views would show up in the church’s personnel.

Seeking to control every thought and feeling and to control and contain a clerical way of life, the hierarchical church lost control of itself. He suggested that the dynamics of seduction of a child and those of corrupting the sacramental system are exactly the same. They are both exercises of power by men over people, the children and adults, in their care. Men who engage us not to nourish us so that we may grow but to control us by demeaning and debasing us, using us to satisfy their own unhealthy needs for power and control.

Using the example of the wedding feast at Cana, he suggested that Jesus produced wine not to show his control over nature, but for the purely human reason of sparing the wedding couple embarrassment. An act of pure generosity. Dr. Kennedy poetically suggested that a
similar mystery of revelation—the attack on the World Trade Center—has made us all into mystics by showing the goodness of ordinary people. We now know what people do when they know that they are going to die. They do something very human. They tell somebody that they love them.

He asked how we could miss the immense sacramental revelation of the wonder and goodness, the passion of these ordinary people, suggesting that we can see them as God sees them and sees all of us on judgment day, as good, stripped of all the distinctions so laboriously made by those who do not understand the sacramentality of the world.

The revelation of those who died is that human beings are whole and pure of heart. Dr. Kennedy challenged us to bring this wholeness and goodness, the sacramental sign par excellence, into the hierarchy of the church, which has never needed it more. The health and wholeness of ordinary human beings will say “let these dead bury the dead,” and bring life, and life to the full to us, the people of God who are the church.

An audiotape of Dr. Kennedy’s presentation is available for $6. Please send your check and order to FutureChurch, 15800 Montrose Avenue, Cleveland OH 44105 or e-mail info@futurechurch.org

Winter 2003

 

 

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