Maverick Priest: A Story of Life on the Edge
A book review of “Maverick Priest: A Story of Life on the Edge” by Father Harry J. Bury, PhD (Ohio: Robert D. Reed Publishers), 2018, 350 pages.
By Francis X. Kroncke
“What forced many young priests to leave was not ministerial difficulties, but the inability to live their lives in the manner to which they felt called. It was clear that Harry felt called to serve others.” This is also true of the many of us who left “the Church” forever. And that is the divinely humorous gist of Harry Bury’s life and this book, that he stayed for the same reasons many of us left.
In the Preface, Harry intellectually sums it all up: 1) Although truth exists, I assume no one can be absolutely sure about anything because total reality cannot be comprehended by the finite mind.” Okay, sounds like an intro to “Why do anything?” Then he adds, 2) I assume nothing is perfect on earth,” and 3) Our separation from each other is an assumption.” Hold on, there is more! 4). I assume that no evil people exist—only good people who do bad things out of ignorance….” Quoting Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan Buddhist, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” Then he goes forth to Vietnam to eventually chain himself with three others, to the American Embassy gate in Saigon.
Harry says, “My parents’ behavior motivated me to rank social justice among the highest of values.” Then the most insightful self-analysis, “By their actions, my concern for social justice drove me to live a life quite different from the average Roman Catholic priest. It was not a lark.” This is also a response to his mother saying, “And if you become a priest, be a good priest. We have enough bad ones.” Now Harry says, “Now, nearer the end of my life, I think to be a good priest means to seek to be authentic, and a man of conscience. It is the story I want to tell in this book.”
Reader, Hold on! Harry takes your hand and off you go! But, but, but … Harry scares you half-to-death by entering Vietnam, a country at war! Each page keeps you wanting to say, Okay, the war’s immoral…Can we go home, now?! But this idealistic priest seems to be crazier than Jesus, and he’s kidnapped by “friendlies” who accuse him of working for and with the CIA. Another, Wow! This is a story Harry could not have made up.
“Finally, I understood. I came to learn that to be a good priest was to be an effective lover, not afraid to express gratitude, love, and affection.” Effective lover? Harry is, as his story of witness continues in Nam, “Deep in the shit!”…and he’s talking about being a lover? Who says, “If we have not gone out on a limb and made up our minds—we don’t have to change our minds.” So, Harry goes full bore, witnessing to God’s love for all humans. Harry takes you with him on his truly adventurous journey witnessing for peace in Vietnam, serving as “boots on the ground” to observe the truth—not what Americans were told was the truth. One more Wow! before writing him off as a lunatic priest.
Then he shifts back to his professorial self and ends his harrowing tale with a testimonial, “I’m now in a place where life is what happens in us, not to us.”
Take heed! This is not an easy read. Harry doesn’t die. And, “the war” still rages on, in different lands and new locales, such as cyberspace.
All in all, what is to be learned from this book? You’ll take away what you want—Harry, the fool; Harry, the fearless; Harry, crazy as Jesus; Harry, the priest, or just, “Harry!”
By Francis X. Kroncke
Francis X. Kroncke, one of the “Minnesota 8,” raided Selective Service draft boards in 1970. He served fourteen months of a five-year sentence. A lay theologian and Conscientious Objector, prior to prison he served at the University of Minnesota Newman Center and taught at several Catholic colleges. Later he worked in prison reform for the American Friends Service Committee, completed four years in a joint doctoral program at UC, Berkeley and the GTU (“ABD”) as a religious historian. In 2008, a play, “Peace Crimes: the Minnesota 8 vs. the war,” premiered at the University of Minnesota. See, www.minnesota8.net.