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The laughter of the church is still the mortar of his soul.

Dear Paul:

Much of the news about priests has been so bad lately that I have enjoyed contemplating your birthday -- 77, the good number of Revelation, multiplied elevenfold. Soon it will be 45 years since you were ordained, 40 years since your final vows, 30 years since you were finishing my education in metaphysics and directing my soul to patience, the unknowing and the possibility that God is real.

My thoughts have focused on the core of the Christian priesthood. It now seems simple, easy, rare, yet achieved enough to keep the church going.

I went to the local parish on Holy Thursday. The priest swept in, swept out. In between, he tried hard, did not do badly, yet... We were an old congregation: many hearing aids, many bent backs. I, a relative youngster, hear like a predator, a lynx alone on the snow. But about this time last year, multiple myeloma broke my back. So I, too, am bent over, as if my life from God had been hard. God knows, and you will remember, that it has not been. Yet what I missed in this priest -- and in most priests -- and miss in myself daily is the joy of a grateful heart. Why is that joy so rare among us?

Rare, yes. But, wonderfully, not extinct, still cherry red at the coals. In your last note you mentioned John Climacus: Prayer should bring laughter deep in the soul. When the geezer who had read the epistle, then returned to the pew in front of me and unplugged his hearing aid, turned for the kiss (fumble) of peace, he was beaming. Laughter from his soul deepened his whole network of wrinkles, buffed his dome as if with Armor-All. I had to grin in return: This damn church will never let me go. Its laughter is the mortar of my soul.

O, Paul, where else is that mortar mixed but in the Eucharist, and why else do we have priests but to "confect" the Eucharist, as the old theology put it? Ever since Schillebeeckx rehabilitated Hebrews for me, making it truly a book of Jesus, "the apostle and high priest of our confession," I have loved to contemplate why priests are taken from among us and returned to us: to help God become flesh of flesh, broken bone of broken bone. That is what you and I have been privileged to do. Not without fear and trembling, but sometimes with laughter and great joy.

As I put down Cormac McCarthy's Child of God last night, it struck me that the broken main character, Ballard, is inconceivable without a Christian, eucharistic imagination, however Gothic. Wandering the caves of Tennessee, the caves of his soul, this necrophilic little killer finally finds daylight.

Neither you nor I has much longer to wander. Realizing that, I bless you, not for the first time, for the hopes you've given me and given many others.

May God give you back not just 77 but 70 times seven.
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Title Annotation:priest narrative
Author:Carmody, John
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 18, 1993
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