Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

by Bill Brenner on February 14, 2010

The author goes to Church and comes away with a strange feeling.

Mood music for this post: “Faith.” The Limp Bizkit version:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpPM-5TJIZ0&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

Yesterday at All Saints Parish Father Michael Harvey delivered one of those Homilies that sent my mind and soul all over the map.

I like Father Harvey. I wasn’t sure about him at first. He had the massive shoes of Father Mark Ballard to fill, so the deck was stacked against him from the start. He’s very conservative, and sometimes I wonder if his collar is stuck to his neck with thumb tacks. He tackles the most taboo of topics — politics — when he delivers a homily.

Truth be told, I like how he goes for the throat in his Homilies without fear of offending someone. One Sunday he gave a Homily about Natural Law, otherwise known as the “contraception is bad” talk. After Mass, we got in the car and Sean, the 8 year old, blurted out, “Gee, I guess Father Mike wasn’t expecting there to be any kids at Mass this morning.”

Being moderate in my political views, I get itchy when he’s up there trashing a politician I like or praising one I despise. Yesterday, without naming him, the Homily turned to the subject of Patrick Kennedy, who I defended in this blog yesterday for showing up for public life despite a withering battle with depression and addiction.

The larger message of the Homily was that the pursuit of power takes a person further and further from God, because when one is spending all his or her time groping for attention they’re too busy thinking about themselves to be thinking about God.

He then brought up “a politician from Rhode Island” who decided not to run for office anymore. “Oh, great, here it comes,” I mumbled to my wife.

He brought up the fact that the Bishop down there had asked Kennedy to stop taking Communion because of his pro-choice stance. The Bishop tried to handle it in private, but Kennedy took it public.

In the end, Father Harvey speculated aloud, Kennedy was probably coming around to the decision that it was time to leave public life because holding onto power had corrupted his soul. I’m not sure Kennedy would share that exact assessment, but I think he would agree that power isn’t worth having when it plunges the rest of your life into a dark, unhappy place.

So I walked away with mixed feelings. I am pro-life but get incensed when someone paints a pro-choice person as evil personified. I don’t think it’s so simple. I know a lot of people who hate abortion, but believe it’s between a woman, her doctor and God. They are pro-choice but NOT pro abortion. They are the types that vote for someone based on a wider range of issues than abortion alone. But they are told they’ve voted against God if they vote the wrong way. [See also: The Better Angels of My Nature]

I have a lot of trouble with that notion.

But in the larger picture, there’s no question that the pursuit of power is a tricky thing, and the longer one wields it the worse off they are.

I see myself in all this. As I’ve admitted before, I have a fairly big ego that comes with being a writer. The ego is frequently driven into overdrive by the OCD [See: The Ego OCD Built]. It’s painfully true that this ego carries a certain level of attention seeking. After all, it’s the writer’s goal to make sure people are reading their work, and that involves a lot of self promotion.

I’m guilty as charged.

It’s a double-edged blade, really. I don’t write with the idea of sticking the papers in a drawer for someone to find after I’m dead. I’m a journalist whose goal is for people to see what he’s writing today, not 30 years from now. Social networking makes it all the more dangerous. I’ll let this illustration drive home the point for me:

At the same time, I have a faith that has deepened with time, and my Religious beliefs often come into direct conflict with my profession. In the end, it doesn’t have to be that way. I just have to find my way on this twisted path.

That’s why I keep coming to Church. It’s ultimately about my relationship with God and how to strengthen it. People can get uptight about church politics and get angry because their beliefs have been challenged by the priest. But to me those things are distractions that are as big as any shiny object that distracts us from our core Faith. I think that’s why Confession is my favorite Sacrament. It forces me to come clean with God on a regular basis. It keeps the emotional trash from piling up and stinking too much.

In this particular case, the priest gave me something to think about. He zeroed in on an unpleasant truth.

And so, he did his job.

It’s up to me to ultimately reconcile it with how I live my life. I think I’ve come a long, long way. But I have a long way to go yet.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Christy February 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Hey Bill,
I too was sceptical of Father Mike when he first arrived. He has certainly proven to be a life-changing individual to me. I have seen him for confession and some things have changed in my life and in our marriage due to that one confession. These are things that will one day impact our children and grandchildren. I like the way Father tackles those topics we might consider tough with such ease like it doesn’t bother him what other people think. Ultimately I think it shouldn’t matter what others think only what God thinks. Living that way is more challenging than I can comment on. Confession is also my favorite sacrament. I say it’s like when you leave the dentist after a cleaning. Your teeth have never felt that clean before. Well, after confession your soul feels that clean!

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