For me personally, today was a bad day to pick up the Boston Globe. The top two stories were:
"Congressman-Priest Drinan Dies"
It's never going to be a good day when you awake to hear on the radio that a good friend, especially a good friend to all of us, has died. I had heard from his family last week that he was very ill, but the truth is that, even though you know that someone is in his mid-80's, you never expect someone like Bob Drinan to die. We all assumed that he would just get out of the hospital bed and go on forever. Unfortunately for all of us, this was not the case.
I've known Father Bob for what now somehow turns out to be a long time. I am a friend of the family and they have been kind enough to invite me to many family gatherings over the years. No matter how busy he was (and he was busy all the time) if he possibly could, he always made it a priority to come back to Boston and reconnect with the family base. During these visits, I saw that he could be silly playing with kids,collegial with those of us involved in politics, and priestly when saying grace over the Christmas meal all in the course of a day. Such was the meld of the man.
He was a odd combination of grace and intellectual force, emotional support and clear morality that we are not likely to see again anytime soon. In truth, I found it hard to have a plain conversation with him -- it always turned into some sort of seminar with him asking probing questions and listening, I mean really listening, to your responses and then asking more questions. He was a priest and a lawyer and was Jesuit trained to boot. Not much got by him, even toward the end.
Being a born politician, he was always eager for political gossip and I never saw him when he didn't pump me unmercifully about what was happening at Harvard and what my opinion about the doings there were. This was always done with the greatest respect for my opinions and it was clear that the motivation was to attempt to satisfy Bob's insatiable curiosity about institutions, people, power, and how all of them worked. At the same time, it was clear that none of this was an intellectual exercise for him. He cared passionately about lots and lots of things and the bent of the discussion was always oriented toward what people could do about the conditions of the less fortunate, not only think.
While the obits will focus on the ten years that he spent as a member of Congress and the fact that he was the first Congressman to call the impeachment of Richard Nixon, I think that where Bob will finally be evaluated to have made his mark is in the students that he effected in all of his years of teaching. As the names of people would inevitably come up in the course of conversation, he would sometimes off-handedly but proudly claim that "she was my student, you know." He sounded like he knew all of them personally. And he probably did. These folks have and will go off and effect many things in the world and Bob Drinan knew, to his immense satisfaction, that he had trained them. Over the long-term, this will be his legacy more than those ten years in the Congress.
What I learned from Father Bob was to never become inured with the world and never think that there wasn't a way or a responsibility to make it a better place. He never tired of using politics as an extension of the responsibilities that we all have to be better Christians and better people. We shouldn't either.
"Schism Brings a Church Closing"
On the other hand, though I had heard through the grapevine that the forces of intolerance had claimed the Episcopal Church that I had grown up inAttleboro , Massachusetts, it was quite a different thing to see the congregation on the top of the front page of the Globe just below that of Father Bob. A large photo showed the parish priest, Father Lance Guiffrida, surrounded by parishioners during the last service that the this group would hold in the All Saints Episcopal Church. They had been dispossessed by the main Diocese of theEpiscopal Church who was reclaiming the church. The Arch-Diocese had come to the determination, along with the majority of American Episcopalians , that being gay was acceptable within the church and this particular congregation disagreed - a little bit of the red state consciousness here in the most blue of states.
In a way, this attitude in the old home town didn't surprise me. I used to joke that the town that I grew up in had no Blacks, so we had to make due with oppressing the Portuguese.Attleboro now, 35 years later, has lots of minorities and even had a Mayor of Chinese origin at one point, but it seems that gays have become the new Blacks in Attleboro . The fashion of hating people (and wrapping this hate in the shroud of Jesus) because of the group of which they are a part has not gone out of style in some parts of town. Knowing the town the way that I do, this does not surprise me.
When I was growing up Attleboro, Massachusetts was a conservative working-class manufacturing town where people had worked very hard to get the little they had and were absolutely dedicated to no one taking it away from them. They made the way that they came up (the hard way) into the ultimate virtue and actively disliked anyone who was not like them or didn't have to go through the same process. The narrowness of worldview that resulted was intentional and made the people who clung to it feel safe. The only problem with living your life this way is that it makes so many others miserable and, I'm convinced, the fact that it also makes the people who hold these views miserable over the long run as well. And then there's the small problem of the contradiction between this world view and the basic Christian message of loving your neighbor (and even your enemy).
Though I can no longer count myself a Christian, I have to say that I'm still glad that these folks are no longer desecrating the the church where I had much of my basic religious education. No, it looks likeAttleboro hasn't changed in some regards and I can't say that I'm happy that it has not.