POCATELLO, ID – Recently, friends of mine have been watching the British TV series Father Brown on one of the new digitalized viewing services. Since I love fictional murder mysteries, and the British are the best at it, I decided to give it a try and found it on Youtube.
Father Brown S.J., Society of Jesus, a Jesuit priest holds forth in a parish in a small English village set in the 1950s. One would expect a priest from that era to be stuck in a legalistic mindset of justifying community shaming and shunning despite the so-called forgiveness and prayer penance following ritual confession.
But there is something else happening in this series – Compassion.
Father Brown actually listens to people and explores the root causes of their distress. And best of all, he leads perpetrators and victims to realize their own weaknesses and strengths without breaking the sanctity of the confessional.
And no rough stuff. Much can be accomplished with tone of voice and facial expression when talking to victims, perpetrators and police investigators.
Brown’s disciples include a gossipy elderly church secretary, a “fallen” middle-aged woman in a loveless marriage to a wealthy older man, and her 20-something “common” chauffeur – a motley crew. Despite their faults, or because of them, audiences find them charming.
The Jesuits were founded in 1534 by St. Ignatius of Loyola at the University of Paris. Their emphasis has been on education and free-thinking, a trait that has caused their relationship to the Vatican to falter from time to time. There are 28 Jesuit universities and colleges in the United States. Although this writer is not Catholic, was instead baptized and confirmed Lutheran, she is the graduate of one of them, Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
And yes, a certain amount of free thinking went on during my two years at Marquette, although a few incidents proved the power of tradition regarding women and the church.
One of my theology professors described the church as a giant Umbrella able to include multiple religious philosophies from Dorothy Day’s work with the Catholic Worker and the homeless to high church masses served with golden chalices and clouds of incense. Maybe so, but the church has always had difficulties with women (including Dorothy Day).
When I arrived at Marquette in the early 1990s, the first Catholic University to admit women (and they did so way back in 1909 but kept them socially segregated from the men), a rumor was circulating that a nun had been fired because she had invited a pro-abortion advocate to sit on a panel discussion.
After a few months, I responded to an ad in the student paper allowing individual students to spend time each week with a Jesuit to discuss “faith in every day life,” a thinly disguised Jesuit recruiting endeavor, but the ad didn’t specify gender. The administration wanted me to visit with a nun, but I, being a pushy older non-traditional student, insisted on visiting with a real. full-fledged Jesuit, and I did, a pleasant, well-seasoned older man, Father Warosh. We kept in touch for years with Christmas cards, and then they stopped. I assume he has passed on to his reward.
One of the other highlights of my Marquette experience (besides student loan debt that dogged me until I recently retired) was entering an essay contest on current events. I chose to write about the abortion issue because I am Pro-Choice (which I interpret as pro-life) and I wanted to see what would happen.
My premise was/is that abortion should remain legal and that it makes sense to keep it legal even within the confines of the church – because if horrific social pressures drive a pregnant woman to suicide or bad medicine (coat hangers), the church loses two souls, the woman and the baby. If she is allowed to safely relieve herself of the social burden of an unwanted pregnancy, God takes the innocent life into the fold while the woman has time to reconcile her faith and not be automatically condemned.
I won second place. Two of the judges called me in for a visit. They told me that technically I had won first place, but the committee could NOT present a Pro-Choice essay to the Dean. In fact, they would not even tell the Dean the subject, nor would it be published in the student publication as the winners usually are.
I didn’t make a fuss about it. I wanted to find out what would happen if I used a little free thinking, and I did.