Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Issues with Sunday Mass

My husband and I usually attend the Spanish Mass in our parish, for a variety of reasons. I don’t look forward to it. Father generally gives his homily in Spanish, of course; but the last two weeks, his homily was in English because they are re-carpeting the office and he doesn't have access to his printer.

Both homilies were pretty good; the first homily addressed the fact that Sunday is a day of rest, what that means, and why it’s important. The next Sunday he talked about the fact that most people don’t appreciate Mass; we yawn through it, keeping an eye on the time; we are oblivious to the miracle that takes place on the altar, and all that. Very good; yes, very true.

BUT...he went on and on, and I began imagining myself raising my hand and saying, “But Father! What in the world about this Mass helps people to realize what an awesome thing is happening?! We have guitar music that sounds like Mexican folk music ditties; we have a woman in a spaghetti-strap top and tight pants reading the Scriptures (and most of the congregants are not dressed any better); we have ushers in Bermuda shorts; we have prayers that fail to mention our sin; we have very little that indicates that Jesus is Truly Present in the tabernacle; and you face the people throughout Mass as if you are the talk-show host! And yes, the sanctuary looks pretty good, but people don't treat it reverently!” And these same issues, or similar ones, plague the morning English Mass as well – plus at the English Mass, there are often girls as altar servers.

Father went on to tell us how we are refreshed by the Mass, and that it strengthens us to carry on for another week. Well, sure it would – if it weren't for those guitars, the spaghetti-strap tops, the Bermuda shorts, and a myriad of other little things that go on that don't convey the solemnity of the occasion - or the true joy and comfort that are to be had. But as it is, I dread Sunday Mass, and I have to find other ways to fortify myself for both the trials of the week and the liturgical abuses I’ll witness again next Sunday.

So I was a little miffed. Okay, I was irritated. This priest knows the truth of what I’ve written above. He would prefer to have only male altar servers. He would prefer to have more reverent, appropriate music. But he is afraid to press for these changes. I pray for him to be given some courage to actually change some things he knows should be changed.

In the meantime, I have found myself speaking quite frankly to non-Catholics (at least a couple!) about Mass. My friend Doc told me that he “enjoys” going to Mass when either one of two people are present with whom he feels some connection, and he can sit with them. His idea of Mass is that it’s a time for him to feel like he belongs to a community. He doesn’t at all see it as worshiping God, because, he says, he can worship God and pray at home; besides, he says, the good deeds he does outside of Church “count”, don’t they? Well, they count for something! But he doesn’t understand why we go to Mass.

I told him that I don’t feel like I’m a part of the local Catholic community, but I don’t go to Mass for those people; I go to worship God. And I don’t “enjoy” Mass because of the liturgical abuses, but I go anyway to worship God as best I can under those circumstances. When I said I don’t like going to the Spanish Mass, he said, “You shouldn’t go then.” He simply will not hear that liturgical worship is important to God. “God doesn’t care about the ceremony,” he says. Oh yes, God does care!

Unfortunately, too many Catholics agree with him about “ceremony”, and that is why our liturgy suffers. And because our liturgy suffers and is deficient, we are creating Catholics who don’t understand their faith and whose spiritual life is deficient.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

If Your Religion Hasn't Changed You...

I saw a “meme” on Face Book the other day…it said, “If your religion hasn’t changed your life, you had better change your religion.” It’s a protestant thing; it came from a “ministry” that features a person named Adrian Rodgers. And really, if you think about it, that is a very protestant reaction: we used to call it church-hopping when I was running in those circles.

The source and summit of our life.
The source of "change"!
There are some very obvious problems with that little “adrianism” (as the site calls it), especially for a Catholic. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Catholics who try to do just that: they say they don’t get anything out of Mass, and that they don’t believe what the Church teaches on certain things, and then they go off and start attending some feel-good Protestant service that advertises contemporary Christian music, and/or hand-waving, and/or being “slain in the spirit”. (They can get this at a “charismatic” Catholic service, too, of course.)

They mistake all the emotional hype for “change”. They think they are changed by the emotions, and they fail to look way down deep within themselves for the change. They mistake the music and the preaching and the concomitant emotions as the source of their “change”. It makes them feel good, and gets them excited, at least for a while. But at the end of the day, when the emotion fades, so does the “change”. You’re back where you started, waiting for the next Sunday, or maybe a Wednesday night, when you can get recharged by singing and dancing and waving your hands in the air, and, if you’re really “blessed”, to fall down on the floor (aided by the watchful ushers) in some sort of religious ecstasy.

Been there, done that.

And then there are the Catholics who think their religion isn’t changing them, so they seek to change Catholicism to suit themselves. The Jesuits (in general) come to mind…

Of course, the truth is, we may be changed by our Catholic faith and not perceive the change as a giant turn-around. That slow, gradual change is more profound and more lasting than any pseudo-epiphany. (Of course, there are times when an individual might have a real epiphany that does result in a huge change in their very being; but that’s another story. St. Paul comes to mind.)

My point is, though, that we don’t always recognize the changes that take place within us – or even the superficial changes. For instance, sometimes I see photos of myself and wonder where all that gray hair came from all of a sudden. Well, it didn’t really happen overnight; I just didn’t notice it, since it was a gradual change. (Still, when I look in the mirror, all I see is that I am developing blonde highlights. Strange…)

I have been pursuing spiritual development for years. Have I seen any change? Often, I think not. I used to whine to my spiritual director about it. “I’m exactly the same as when I started! I’m stuck! I haven’t changed a bit!” And he would say, “We’ll be the judge of that.” (He often resorts to that royal “we” in such circumstances.) Sometimes others see the change you don’t. And sometimes, only God knows what changes He has wrought in your soul…but we will all know about our changes when we come face-to-face with Him.

It is definitely a protestant mindset that urges people to “change their religion.” It reflects the underlying sentiment – one that is not even recognized by most protestants! – that the individual is the supreme arbiter of faith. Each person is his own authority when it comes to “religion”.

But if there’s no true authority, then there’s no true faith, is there?

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

For Such a Time as This

While I was on retreat, we celebrated the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More.

One prayer for this feast, taken from the modern Liturgy of the Hours, says:

Father, you confirm the true faith with the crown of martyrdom. May the prayers of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More give us the courage to proclaim our faith by the witness of our lives.

Given our current troubled times – and especially now that “gay marriage” has been legalized – I find this prayer more meaningful than I would have a year ago…even a month ago! Already we are seeing Christians who are suffering because of their willingness to proclaim their faith by the witness of their lives: bakers, for instance, who are fined for their refusal to bake a cake for a gay wedding, and forbidden to express their opinion. Other business owners have met the same fate, and these were all before the Supreme Court made its ill-advised decision. The power of the homosexualist movement to silence the moral outrage of God-fearing people has been incredible. Now with the weight of the law on their side, they will continue to persecute those speak out against the sin of sodomy.

I think that the story of St. Thomas More can bring the reality of persecution home to us effectively because the culture in which he and St. John Fisher were persecuted was more similar to ours that the culture of the poor Christians in Syria and Iraq. We see the evidence of the beheadings and other heinous tortures, but there is a huge distance between us and them, both geographically and culturally. There is a huge distance of time between us and Thomas More and John Fisher, but culturally, they are quite near to us. Of course, they were beheaded, too, and maybe that fact will make more of an impression on us now that our cultural milieu mirrors theirs, with persecution of Catholics and other Christians already visible in terms of financial burdens. Will it come to death for those who oppose the normalization of sodomy? Personally, I consider it to be in the realm of possibility in the not-too-distant future. It could surely be that it will come to imprisonment for "dissenters".

But we should not fear. Thomas More, knowing that his death was imminent, wrote to his daughter the following:

I will not mistrust [God], Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help…

…And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may see, it shall indeed be the best.

Like Esther the Old Testament, who saved her people from the evil will of one man, we should remember that it is quite likely that God has put us here, now, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves as far as defending the faith, “for such a time as this.”

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Retreat Time Again

I'll be on retreat this week. Thought I'd leave you with some pretty pictures. 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Cathedral Through the Eyes of a Child

The days fly by. 

When I am babysitting the children I mentioned in a previous post, it is usually a two-day
stretch, 12 hours per day. I am enjoying my time with them, but find myself exhausted at the end of it; I am not accustomed to the constant vigilance required!

My prayer life returns to normal, of course, when I am not providing child care for them, but both of the children occupy my thoughts quite a bit of the time. I think often of what I might present to the 10-year-old girl by way of religious instruction. 
I took her to the Cathedral the other day, which was something she had been looking forward to. We walked down the center aisle, and she was gazing around and asking questions (she never stops asking questions, it seems!). But she was speaking in hushed tones, which surprised and delighted me. We walked up to the first row of pews, and she suddenly asked, "Why are we whispering?!" and giggled a little. I said, "It just feels like a place where you should whisper, doesn't it?" She agreed, and I told her it was appropriate because God is there and Jesus is in the tabernacle, and we show respect that way.

“It's so big!” she exclaimed. “It makes me feel really, really small!” I told her it was supposed to be that, because God is so big.

We talked about genuflecting; she wanted to do it correctly, and found it awkward (she's 10, and a 10-year-old's legs are long in proportion to their torso, and she seems to have especially long legs), but kept trying. Perhaps because of the genuflecting and bowing, she turned to me at one point and said, “So Jesus is our King, isn't he?”

I walked her through a quick Stations of the Cross because, boy-oh-boy, it was hot in there. She was so very touched by the Stations! She was appalled at the description I gave her of what crucifixion actually entails, and the manner in which the person dies. It was clear that she was both sad and horrified that something like that could happen to anyone, let alone Jesus, who she recognized had done nothing wrong. It was enlightening for me to see the Stations through the eyes of an unchurched but sensitive little girl!

Looking back from near the sanctuary up to the choir loft
She wanted to go up in the choir loft, which was surprisingly not as hot as it was down below. She said she loves music and would like to sing in the church choir. Sigh. Too bad they don't sing good music!

I get so much out of sharing the faith with her. At last, someone who doesn't mind listening to me, and who actually asks questions!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.