Monday, January 16, 2006

In limbo

Another good reason to have married priests: The ever-readable Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a former priest, psychologist, and occasional contributor to the Chicago Tribune, in a spirited defense of the now-banished limbo:

In the very week that the Roman Catholic Church officially closed limbo, a group of coal miners spent their last hours in its murky counterpart deep in the earth of West Virginia.

Church officials did not, like troubled automotive executives, close a plant that was no longer financially profitable. They declared that limbo never existed, even though its mythic meaning remains spiritually significant to every man or woman who has waited in one of the many limbos of life, in hospitals, for example, where anxious people wait for the birth of a child or the death of a loved one.

We have all been to limbo spiritually. We are there right now in one way or another. Where are we if not in limbo when we await the return of someone we love from a long trip, as parents and families do for a son, daughter, spouse or parent who is in Iraq? Are we not in limbo when we wait to see if we can be fully forgiven for our human failures or for the hurts we cause to those we love?

Limbo is a necessary space for humans held in the grip of time. Limbo, thought to be a place for unbaptized children that the Church didn't know what to do with, is actually the place we are when we don't know what to do with ourselves. Limbo is the mythic homeland for those of us who feel the pull of the eternal in our longing for life and love and the yank of time as it also feeds our loss and heartbreak.

These possibilities play about the lives of coal miners, soldiers, policemen and people who seem safe at day's beginning, like those who went to work in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Vatican officials may take limbo off their theological survey but they cannot take it out of the lives of human beings. We pass through or stand waiting outside of it every day.

Limbo has never been a place for sinners as much as the condition of life for those who live with setbacks, separations and illness as a condition for experiencing the eternal in themselves. Vatican officials, including popes, would be better off taking a good look at all that people suffer in trying to live good lives rather than condemning them for inhabiting what they cruelly call a "culture of death."

Writing limbo off like land on which they refuse to pay the death taxes tells us that at least some Vatican specialists fail to understand myths as symbols and stories about the mystery of being alive.

Don't know what he's like in person, but if his preaching and pastoring was half as good as his writing, his departure to marry was a great loss for the church.


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