Thursday, August 28, 2014

A great responsibility and a great gift

Rod Dreher today shares a story: a friend of his found out that her seven-year-old son had accidentally seen porn on his iPod.  The device was supposed to be secured.  The mom had paid for expensive Internet security.  Yet a simple search for an unfamiliar word lead the child into a world of ugliness.

Rod writes:
It’s really hard to be so vigilant about your children in the online world. The evil out there is just a click away, and there is scarcely any shelter. In our family, we don’t shelter our kids from nudity entirely. When we were in Paris a couple of years ago, we took the kids to museums, and when nudity presented itself in a sculpture or on a canvas, we talked to them about the beauty of the human body, and how it is not a dirty thing, though it can be depicted in a dirty way. We want them to learn that the body is good, and that sexuality is good, before they have to confront the ruin that perverse people make of these gifts.
But the world doesn’t work according to our priorities. What really ticks me off are parents who know that they’re not doing the right thing with their children and their access to the Internet, but who let themselves off the hook by telling themselves that there’s really no way to prevent it anyway, so let’s just not even bother trying. It’s an excuse for laziness. You can try hard, like my friend, and still fail. The vile pornographers of the world are always and everywhere trying to poison minds, even the minds of seven year olds. We have to be merciful with ourselves when despite our best efforts, something slips over the wall. Still, that just means we have to redouble our efforts. Because once a child sees, he cannot unsee.
We talk about the Benedict Option; here’s a practical consideration: I want to live in community with parents who share my wife’s and my conviction about the evil of pornography, and our militancy about protecting our kids from it online. Not only do I want to know that my kids are safe when they go over to someone else’s house, but I want to be held accountable by other parents. I’m very sorry for what my friend had to go through with her seven-year-old son, but I’m grateful that she shared it with her readers, and I’m grateful that it made my wife and me have a talk about how we have let down our guard in ways that we ought not to have done.
I’ve talked about Rod’s “Benedict Option” ideas here on this blog before.  Essentially, the idea is that it would be great if people who are serious about living a Christian life could live in some proximity to each other, ideally gathered around a Church that could foster and nourish an authentic community. 

But there’s a downside to that idea, and that’s also something I’ve talked about here.  The downside is that sometimes an intentional community becomes a cult, that what starts as a group of like-minded people just trying to follow the light in a world of increasing darkness becomes a sort of emotional prison where a strong, charismatic leader preys on the weak and the vulnerable.  There have been cults of this description in every religious group; some people who lived the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi life would unhesitatingly call LC/RC such a cult, especially when Maciel was alive and actively living a life of evil while using his religious group to hide that evil from the world.

Sometimes it seems like we don’t have terrific choices.  Live in a world where it’s all-too-common for preteens to stumble across Internet porn?  Withdraw from the world in a way that means no computers or TVs or other “evil access points” in our homes?  Become sort of “Catholic-Amish-Lite” for the good of our families?

The truth is that while there have been times and places wherein living a Christian life and raising good Catholic kids has been easier than it is now, there have also been times and places where it’s much harder--even now.  Keeping young children from accidentally accessing smut is a real problem, to be sure.  Keeping your children Catholic in a country where Catholics can’t practice the faith openly, or where they have to belong to an “official church” not in communion with Rome, etc., is much harder.

There’s a reason we are called to follow a narrow path.  Too much freedom, too little oversight, and our children may suffer for it; but too little freedom, a parental attitude that thinks removing all sources of potential evil and hiding from the world is the better way, may be just as dangerous in the end.  In every aspect of our vocation as parents we will have to use discernment, vigilance, patience; we will have to fine-tune the art of listening and foster open communication; we will have to make sure that our children are protected from the evils of our world from the inside-out, so to speak, not merely in some external way.  But that is the vocation of parenthood, and it is both a great responsibility and a great gift.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beware the appearance of goodness

If you are a Facebook user, you’ve probably already seen this piece where Jason Berry shows some of the latest nonsense coming out of the Legion of Christ:

A booklet intended to promote the new center, Magdala: God Really Loves Women, contains material demonstrating Maciel's posthumous hold on certain top-rank Legionaries. The booklet compares Maciel to Mary Magdalene and portrays the Legion founder as harshly judged. In the quotation from the text that follows, the speaker is Fr. Juan MarĂ­a Solana, who heads the Magdala project:

The priest speaks his heart: "Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene. She had a problematic past before her deliverance, so there's a parallel. Our world has double standards when it comes to morals. Some people have a formal, public display and then the real life they live behind the scenes" 
But when we accuse someone else and we are quick to stone him, we must remember that we all have problems and defects. With modern communications so out of control, it is easy to kill someone's reputation without even investigating about the truth. We should be quieter and less condemning."
The Legion's expansion in the Holy Land stands out in stark contrast to the "fire sale" of assets in the Americas, as one priest calls it, sparked by the fallout from the line of scandals involving the Legion. The Legion's economic boom in Israel also occurs against the backdrop of ongoing legal problems in the United States.
In Connecticut, the Legion has been sued by Maciel's son and the son's half-brother, alleging that Maciel sexually abused them as teenagers in America.
Read the whole thing heredon’t miss Berry’s detailed list of just how much downsizing the Legion of Christ has had to do in recent years, and how much in denial they still seem to be about the disgraceful life and ignominious death of their founder.
To me, the life of Maciel, the build-up of the Legion, and the wicked truth that was being hidden for so long is an object lesson in one particular point: beware the appearance of goodness.

That’s a counterintuitive point for many of us. Shouldn’t we flock to the good? Shouldn’t we seek it, find it, follow it, as leading ultimately to Christ?
Well, sure, if we’re talking about what really is good. But between what is good and what seems to be good there may be an uncrossable chasm.

Real goodness has a lot of humility to it. Real goodness doesn’t go around boasting about how good it is or how much better it is than anybody or anything else. Real goodness always measures itself up against Christ, and always finds itself lacking. The best and holiest never see themselves that way--they only see the flaws and the shortcomings, the great distance yet to be covered between who and what they are right now, and who and what Christ calls them to be.
This is why I cringe when certain people say things like “The bishops only go after the good people,” or “The Church seems to punish those of us who just want to do things the right way.” The Legion said that too, for a long, long time, and convinced a whole lot of people. Father Corapi said the same kinds of things. There are plenty of other examples.

Even outside the Catholic Church there are examples. I shared a piece critical of the Duggar family the other day and got one or two comments of the “But shouldn’t we just accept how good they are and not criticize them?” Even though the family follows a parenting path mapped out by an abuser? Really? We shouldn’t raise any questions, just because they look so good?

The idea that any group or organization made up of humans is above criticism leads to very dark places.  Within the Church, it led to the Scandal, and it leads to Church leaders one would otherwise admire saying incredibly stupid and harmful things.  As a Divine creation the Church is holy; as a Church made up of sinful human beings she’s no more above criticism than anybody else, so long as we’re clear that we’re criticizing the sinful humans that abide in her.

And it leads to the Legion, in 2014, still angling for a posthumous canonization of a man who fathered children in violation of his vows and who is credibly accused of sexually abusing them and many others.  Because, as Mark Shea puts it, sin makes you stupid--but also because people who become too enamored of the appearance of goodness are sometimes incapable of accepting the reality of evil.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Friendly advice for the POTUS

Back in 2008, Maureen Dowd wrote an opinion piece in which she compared Barack Obama to Jane Austen’s famous hero of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy.  I wrote about the absurdity of it all here.

Fast forward to 2014, and Maureen Dowd is again making a comparison between President Obama and a figure from of the past--a real person, not a literary character this time.  This time, it’s Abraham Lincoln she’s comparing to the current president--and amazingly enough, the comparison is not at all flattering.

Not at all.

In fact, in her column which uses the Gettysburg Address to skewer President Obama’s recent behavior, it’s pretty clear that Maureen Dowd has had enough.  Example:
FORE! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago, our forecaddies brought forth on this continent a new playground, conceived by Robert Trent Jones, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal when it comes to spending as much time on the links as possible — even when it seems totally inappropriate, like moments after making a solemn statement condemning the grisly murder of a 40-year-old American journalist beheaded by ISIL.
I know reporters didn’t get a chance to ask questions, but I had to bounce. I had a 1 p.m. tee time at Vineyard Golf Club with Alonzo Mourning and a part-owner of the Boston Celtics. Hillary and I agreed when we partied with Vernon Jordan up here, hanging out with celebrities and rich folks is fun.
Now we are engaged in a great civil divide in Ferguson, which does not even have a golf course, and that’s why I had a “logistical” issue with going there. We are testing whether that community, or any community so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure when the nation’s leader wants nothing more than to sink a birdie putt.
I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Maureen Dowd column, but read the whole thing.  Seriously.  Dave Barry could hardly have done a better job (and trust me--that’s a compliment).

It’s as though Dowd suddenly realized that Mr. Obama is not Mr. Darcy at all, but Mr. Collins.

Which is why I have some unwontedly friendly advice for our POTUS: if even Maureen Dowd has given up on you, it might be time for some serious thought.

After you finish playing the last nine holes, of course.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Catholic parenting; or, what’s wrong with the Duggars

Yesterday, Deirdre Mundy shared this interesting article on Facebook; it’s an article written by an atheist who was raised in the sort of family environment that the Duggar family portrays on TV, and the writer has some warnings:
I grew up in the same culture as the Duggars. I was homeschooled, I was the oldest of 12 children, and my family was involved in or aware of each of the various ministries the Duggars are involved in. The Duggars parent the way my parents did, listen to the same ministries as my parents, and have the same general beliefs as my parents. You have to understand that the Duggars are not just your typical suburban family plus an extra sixteen children. The Duggars are part of a very distinct subculture, and that subculture has different rules and different norms. I know those rules and norms, because I lived them. [...]
I’m told that the Duggar children are happy, so clearly my concerns are unjustified. But you know what? The fact that the Duggar children look happy does not actually tell you anything about whether they are happy. This sounds like a rather astounding statement on my part, doesn’t it? Well bear with me! The Duggars follow parenting methods that teach that children should only ever be allowed to be cheerful, smiling, and happy. Yes, really. Those are the only emotions that are permitted. [...]
But let’s get back to the point about smiling for a moment here. The Duggar parents are following parenting gurus who teach that unhappiness or a sour disposition is disobedience. In this climate, what child would have anything but a smile? There is no other option. I also grew up on these teachings. I remember being punished for having a “bad mood.” My siblings and I looked happy, on the outside, and that outward appearance was not always wrong. But sometimes it was—sometimes it was very, very wrong, because being discontented was seen as sin, and was punished. Of course children will look happy, when that is the only option they are allowed.

You really should read the whole thing; there’s no way to do it justice in excerpts.

On Facebook, people are discussing this piece (naturally).  Some raise the objections that if the Duggar’s parenting methods work for the family, where’s the harm?  Certainly the adult children seem to acquiesce in having their careers, their spouses, and their lives chosen for them.  If they didn’t like these things, they could just leave, right?

Others are pointing out though that this is the mystery of cult-like teachings: people, even full-grown adults, don’t think they can leave.  They don’t think they can make different choices.  They think that deciding to pursue their own careers, go to college (especially for the girls in this subculture who are told from a young age that college is not for women), or date or marry someone the parents haven’t selected for them (even if they avoid sexual sin and date/marry a serious Christian who is likewise committed to reserving sex for marriage) is choosing evil and “rebellion.”  Rebellious children--defined as the kind of child who thinks he might want to study accounting instead of some other career his parents have chosen for him, not the kind of child who is cooking meth in the basement, say--are often shunned by these kinds of families, in a form of emotional blackmail: e.g., do exactly what I tell you to do for your entire life, or understand that you are choosing to give up forever your relationship with your parents, siblings, and (frequently) entire extended families.

But then, if a child has been emotionally blackmailed her whole life to believe that she must always pin a cheerful smile on her face regardless of what is happening in her life, that to show unhappiness, frustration, or discontent is sinful and disobedient, that she will be under her father’s complete authority until she is handed over to her husband and told to obey him instead, it’s no big deal to blackmail her to believe that any deviation from the path carved by her parents is wicked rebellion instead of an expression of her God-given individuality and talents.

Where parenting like this breaks down, from a Catholic perspective, is in its failure to realize that our children are indeed individual human beings made in God’s own image and likeness, and that forbidding them to make choices for themselves, especially when they have outgrown their need for full-scale parental vigilance, is to keep them in a perpetual state of spiritual infantilism.  The Church doesn’t want that.  She wants brave, good, courageous young men and women to answer God’s call to serve Him in the unique way that He has planned for them.  In terms of vocation, He may call them to priesthood or religious life, to marriage, or even to serve Him in the single state.  In terms of how they will fulfill those vocations the options are almost endless--parish priest or order priest, active religious or contemplative, so many specific orders and communities spread over the whole world; married with large families or small families or the cross of infertility and the call to live their marital fruitfulness in a different way which may or may not include adoption, raising children in city apartments or suburban houses or rural farms, sending them to Catholic schools or private schools or public schools or homeschooling them; single women becoming consecrated virgins, other singles living with difficulties and crosses few are aware of as they follow the path to holiness, men or women abandoned by divorce and struggling to raise children alone, the special and difficult sign of the widow or widower in service to God in the community in ways too numerous to mention: and all of that is before we even begin to consider all the particular types of work or jobs or careers or ways of interacting with the world, being in it but not of it, bringing Christ into every doorway through which we pass.

As Catholics, we see our job to raise our children in the faith and by means of patient love, good examples, and perseverance to ensure that they don’t disdain that gift of faith through any fault of our own efforts.  But after that, it’s up to them.  Because in order to bring Christ through every door, they have to choose Him in the first place.  In Baptism we made that choice on their behalf, and in Confirmation that gift of faith is strengthened and, through prayer and the continued practice of the faith, can bear great fruit.  But we can’t force our children to take up the Cross, to walk with Him, to serve Him.  Only they can really choose that when they are adults in the faith (and they may still be minors in the world’s eyes, as some saints have been, but more spiritually mature than some of the elderly--it happens).  God’s gift to humanity of free will is tremendously important--He could have a planet full of sinless slaves tomorrow if He willed to remove that gift.  But He didn’t even take it away from Adam and Eve when they made the choice that impacted all of humanity.  That means something, and we ignore it at our peril.

Now, some Catholic parents will point out that we do make choices on behalf of our children, especially during their years of minority.  We don’t just let them absorb all of our culture’s filth without differentiation; we don’t want them to be caught up in things that are objectively evil; we forbid them to adopt the language and manners of some of their peers.  Of course we do!  But the goal isn’t to keep them from ever slipping up--the goal is to teach them to make good choices on their own.  The best Internet security device for teens is a teen who makes good choices.  The best parental setting on a TV is the setting that has been teaching them the difference between entertainment and trash from the time they could crawl.  The best parental oversight of a child’s friends is the child who says on his or her own, without any concern about peer pressure, that no, he or she doesn’t want to watch a particular movie or play a particular video game, because the offering in question offends his or her own values.  And the best gift for a child in these difficult years is the Sacrament of Penance, where the child can admit without fear of shunning or anything of the sort that he or she has fallen, and be helped to rise again.

But there is only one way I know of to achieve those parental settings, and it is this: you must have a real, honest, loving, close, patient, kind, forgiving and nurturing relationship with your children.  You cannot see them as proofs of your own holiness.  You can’t objectify them as tokens of your superiority over those people whose kids have bad manners.  You can’t think of them as dolls or puppets who please you by responding when you pose them or pull their strings, but who displease you whenever they act like real boys and girls.  Above all, you must rejoice in their unique individuality, embrace any and all challenges right along with them, and be as present to them as a limited and sinful human being with an Internet connection and a big mouth can be.

Sure, in our day and age it’s more likely to encounter the kind of parents who complain endlessly about their child or their children, seeing children as a burden and parenting as a chore.  When we see a family like the Duggar family (or any family that is part of those types of Christian movements) we are tempted to put them on a pedestal as people who are really involved with their children and see parenting as a God-given mission instead of an inconvenient problem.  The devil, as always, is in the details, and while it may seem unfair to infer those details about a specific family, in this case the family in question has put some of those details (career choices, courtship/marriage, the idea that wanting to do something on one’s own is rebellion and discontent) on display.  It’s important for Catholics to celebrate the good things about families like these, but it’s even more important to recognize where our Church’s teachings are different and to follow those teachings with fidelity and love.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cowards

I hesitate to write anything about the death of James Foley, because I agree with those Catholic writers and commenters who have pointed out how easy it is in these situations to dehumanize a person who has died in such a terrible way.  There are those who wish to use his death to call for open war, those who wish to use his death to condemn or to justify our nation’s actions in the Middle East, those who wish to score political points for their party, those who recognize Mr. Foley’s Catholic faith only to score points either positively or negatively by that fact.

All of that, of course, needs to stop.  Mr. Foley was and is a unique and beloved human person who has now faced the Almighty; prayers for his soul and for his suffering family are the only things anybody needs to say out loud in regards to him personally.  To do more is to risk using Mr. Foley, and his horrific death, in a way that human beings should not be used.

There is one thing that ought to be said, though, about his murderers, and it is this: they are cowards.

Not because they follow Islam.  Not because they live in the Middle East.  Not because of any group or association or faction to which they belong.  But because they were capable of treating a helpless civilian prisoner so brutally, of killing him so mercilessly, when he posed no threat at all to them, and never would.  Real men neither practice nor condone such cruel evil against people who are in their power.  Mr. Foley’s murderers are nothing but sniveling bullies who kill, in the end.

I think we should stop acting like terrorists are awe-inspiring agents of evil.  They are not.  They are the Devil’s lowest lackeys, his meanest and sorriest and least important of all who cringe and grovel and whine at the feet of evil.  Even the Devil, I suspect, sneers at them while he makes use of them.

Which is why we should--though it makes the gorge rise--be praying for them, too.  That they will wake up before it’s too late.  That they will realize that they are not serving the true God when they commit acts of repugnant evil.  That there is no reward in Heaven for the unrepentant murderers of the innocent, and that it will not be Heaven they find in the next life unless they repent of their evil while they yet live.

To pray for such cowards is not easy.  But to fail to do so is to risk becoming like them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hardly anyone came

I’m short on time today, but I wanted to put up a brief follow-up post to the Holy Day rant post that appears below this one.

We went to the 7 p.m. Mass in the main church of our parish.  The church building itself is tiny and parking is sparse (there is a capital campaign well underway raising the funds for the new church, and the new building looks like it will be lovely).  We went prepared to encounter crowds or even to sit in the “overflow” area which is sometimes used on Sundays, because the church is often too crowded on Sundays to hold everyone who comes to Mass.

Bear in mind that there are usually five Sunday Masses at this church (including the Saturday vigil).  Even with that many Masses it is necessary to accommodate overflow crowds.  But for the Holy Day there were only two Masses, one at 8 a.m., and this other one at 7.

We expected crowds.  But hardly anyone came.

There were a sprinkling of elderly couples.  There were a couple of families besides ours.  There were a few people who dashed in, probably just barely getting away from work, after Mass had begun.  But that was all.

There were plenty of empty benches.  There was a lot of available seating.  This church which never has enough space for its Sunday attendees was nearly empty.

Two Masses.  And hardly anyone came.

I’m going to be thinking and writing about this a bit more in the future, but for now, I have this suspicion in mind.

My suspicion is that the priests see the emptiness of their churches on Holy Days and think: Why should I bother scheduling any more Masses?  Hardly anyone comes to the Masses I do have on Holy Days.  Why should I try to get another priest here, or get permission to say more than two Masses, or do anything else of that nature? No matter how hard I try, the lay people don’t take their Holy Day obligation seriously.

But the lay people look at the schedule--two Masses, one impossible for working people and the other merely mostly impossible for families with two working adults and kids in school or daycare (that is, the majority of Catholic families in America)--and think: Why should I bother trying to get to Mass on this Holy Day?  If it were really important, there would be a Mass I could attend without being over an hour late to work in the morning, or without having to leave work an hour early in order to collect the kids from school/daycare/the sitter and still have time to get to church.  (And that’s before we even consider that the mom who leaves work at 6 and gets to the sitter by 6:30 may have open revolt on her hands if she tells the kids they’re going to head straight to church and be there until 8 p.m.  before any dinner will be possible.)

We don’t live in a Catholic country.  Holy Days don’t get treated like Sundays here.  In some Catholic countries stores and businesses close altogether or have “Sunday hours” on Holy Days.  Catholics in America can’t even imagine what that must be like.

And because we don’t live in a Catholic country, because Holy Days aren’t treated like Sundays, most Catholics have to go to work or school as usual on Holy Days of Obligation.  Children who attend Catholic schools will get the opportunity to go to Mass, but other Catholic children will not.  Diocesan employees can likely get to Mass quite easily on Holy Days, but the vast majority of workers will not be so lucky.

Something about this needs to change.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

My usual Holy Day rant

Tomorrow, as you no doubt already know, is the Feast of the Assumption, a Holy Day of Obligation.  Which means that you have the same obligation to attend Mass as you would on a Sunday--that is, you must attend Mass unless excused for a serious reason (such as illness or the care of children).

And it’s also time for my usual Holy Day Rant.

Here in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, the number of Masses scheduled for Holy Days of Obligation have been shrinking.  It used to be that the average in parishes near me was three Masses on a Holy Day--even if the parish had four, five, or more Masses on Sunday (including the Saturday vigil), there were three Masses for a Holy Day.  I don’t know why.

But then, something changed!  The vigil Masses were removed.  Most of the parishes near where I live no longer have a vigil Mass for any Holy Days of Obligation.

So the pastors must have decided to put all three Masses on the Holy Day itself, right?

Wrong!  (You silly person--that would have made some kind of sense!)  What the pastors apparently decided en masse to do is--wait for it--cut the number of Holy Day Masses down to two.  TWO.  2.  Dos, for my Spanish-speaking friends.

So, yes,  many parishes in my area that have three, four, five or more Sunday Masses each weekend now have two Masses for Holy Days.  And, to add insult to injury, the vast majority of those Masses are either at 8 a.m. or somewhere between 6:30 and 7 p.m.  No really early morning Masses, no noon Masses except for a couple near the downtown area (pretty impossible for workers 45 minutes in traffic to the north to make during the workday).  Of course, if you look at Masstimes.org it seems like there are still vigil Masses and Masses other than 8 a.m. and 7 p.m, but I know from having called those parishes before that most of them don’t actually have those vigils or other Mass times available anymore.  It’s like a secret memo went out to the pastors of the Fort Worth diocese telling them to end the practice of having vigil Masses for feast days and also hinting that 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. would be the best times for workers in a tight job market and a global economy with 24/7 responsibilities, families with school-age children, and, well, everybody else to be able to get to Mass.

I have met plenty of Catholics who have no idea they’re supposed to attend Mass on Holy Days and that the obligation is just as serious as it is on a Sunday (e.g., grave sin, mortal under the usual conditions, to miss a Holy Day Mass without a good reason).  So perhaps our pastors have decided to give the vast majority of Fort Worth Catholics a perfectly legitimate reason to miss Holy Day Masses by scheduling so few of them, with one time--the 8 a.m. time--completely impossible for most people who work or go to school, and the other time just mostly impossible.  Or, and this may be more accurate, perhaps most pastors simply have no idea that the obligations of the laity make times like 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. somewhat difficult; I still remember the charming priest who said so sincerely that he really wanted a Mass for the working people, and was scheduling a daily Mass at 5:30 p.m. once a week for them.  The dear sweet actually thought working people were off by 5 p.m. and would have time to get halfway across town to a Mass by then!  One can only be patient with such a disconnect from the real world.

But I’m starting to lose my patience over the Holy Day of Obligation situation.  Reverend Fathers, if you truly want more Catholics to come to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, then WE NEED MORE MASSES.  I know--there was that time you scheduled an extra Mass and nobody came.  Which might prove that Catholics need to be better catechized about their obligations to attend Holy Day Masses--or it might prove that a Mass at 2 p.m. on a workday/school day in a country that isn’t even remotely Catholic is not going to fill up much.  Shocker.

At least tomorrow night we can have meat for dinner (for those of my fellow Catholics who voluntarily abstain from meat on Fridays, be aware that even in the old days Solemnities that fell on Fridays were not meatless).  True, we won’t have dinner until around 8:30 p.m. by the time we get back from Mass (if we’re lucky!), but at least we can eat meat.

No magic list of liturgical fixes

On Monday Patrick Archbold posted a piece at the National Catholic Register with the title “7 Things To Restore Sense of Sacred Your Pastor Could Do Tomorrow.”  I read the piece, and found that I agreed with some of it and disagreed with other points, and that when I disagreed some of my disagreements were about the suggestion itself and others were merely about the practicality of the suggestion.  What started shaping in my brain as a possible comment on the piece thus turned into a whole blog post, and since I had a really busy Tuesday ahead of me I decided to save it for today. (And now it’s technically Thursday...sigh.)

I’d like to begin by going through each of the “7 Things” individually, and then sum up with my thoughts more generally on the piece as a whole.  So let’s get started, shall we?  The numbered items are Pat’s suggestions:

1. Ad Orientem.  Pat, like many other traditionalist-leaning Catholics, thinks that having priests celebrate Mass at the head of the people (thus facing away from them) will automatically improve reverence.  This is one change I wouldn’t mind seeing; in fact, I have known priests who say Mass this way.  But the ones who do have learned the proper way to do it according to the present rubrics (something Pat does allude to, to give him credit).  That is, the rubrics of the Ordinary Form of the Mass do not require the priest to face away from the people the whole time (and, to be fair, neither do the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form; the E.F. still seems to require the priest to face the people during the Gospel and the Homily, for instance).  Priests wishing to celebrate ad orientem would, I think, be best off if they did check with the local ordinary first if only to make sure they understand the proper way to do this.  Then, too, the liturgical architecture would have to be suitable for an ad orientem; I am not sure if the rubrics permit this in churches where the tabernacle isn’t behind the altar, for instance, and I don’t know if all altars are suitably placed for this posture.  So while this is a change I think Catholics would generally support, especially if the reasons for it and the liturgical history were properly and carefully explained, I don’t think it’s something the average pastor could just do “tomorrow.”

2. Restore chant and polyphony.  Here Pat is quite literally, in my case, preaching to the choir.  I’m all in favor of chant and polyphony.  I’d even like to see Entrance Antiphons at the very least (we have little time for an actual Entrance Hymn given our mission church’s unique situation).  There are two really big obstacles: a) the congregation and b) the ability of all-volunteer lay choirs to learn chant and polyphony properly and then teach it to the congregation as the Council envisioned (because what the Council didn’t seem to want was the semi-professional/professional choir doing all the singing all the time while the congregation sat mute, possibly praying or at least soaking in the reverence, but also possibly planning their pancake orders for breakfast after Mass).  Since the all-volunteer choir naturally comes from the congregation these two areas sometimes overlap.  But even when they don’t--even when you have volunteers who would be quite eager to learn chant and polyphony--you have to be willing to hire people who can teach them, and then work around the volunteers’ schedules so they can come and learn.  And all of it will be for naught if the congregation gets angry and demands the return of “On Eagle’s Wings,” which is, alas, only too likely to happen.  Again, this isn’t something that will happen “tomorrow,” or even next week, for that matter.  The best strategy might be to teach the choir some “stealth chant” and have them deploy it at intervals until the congregation starts to like it.

3. Latin, yes, Latin!!  I like Latin.  I like singing in Latin and praying in Latin.  But we had to stop singing the Mass parts in Latin because a parishioner threw a screaming fit in the vestibule one Sunday about it.  It is a sad reality that some people associate Latin, for whatever reason, with Father Grumpy Hellfire who used to tell them that failing to kneel perfectly upright and perfectly still with their hands pointed at Heaven at Mass was a mortal sin for which they would burn for all eternity, or Sister Stern Wimple who terrorized the priests in the rectory and ran everything in the parish behind the scenes but told her female students they just had to accept that God didn’t like women as much as men so women can’t be priests and really shouldn’t try to be doctors, either.  Yes, we traded in those two characters for Father Kumbaya and Sister Stretchpants, but the point is that just as some of us will someday go into a conniption fit if the children of the parish are invited to help create a felt banner even if it’s only for the parish hall and only for one special day, so today do some of our elders go into conniptions when they hear Latin.  Is it a bit silly?  Sure.  Should we try to be charitable about it?  Of course.  Should we still slip a bit of Latin here and there into the Mass?  Well, naturally.  But do we have to make it a battle point?  I think Caesar would have told us, “Sumo vestri pugnas.”  (Or something like that.  High school Latin was a long time ago.)

4. Proper reception of Communion, Kneeling and On The Tongue. Well, now, this one is where Pat starts to lose me.  I actually do receive on the tongue most of the time (my exception is if I’m recovering from a viral illness and want to try to cut down on the spread of it; I also don’t shake hands at the Sign of Peace on those Sundays).  I prefer receiving on the tongue.  And I like communion rails in churches that have them; it makes Holy Communion move along more quickly than the individual lines.  The problem is that so many churches built since Vatican II not only don’t have communion rails, but they also don’t have a way to add them without major architectural renovations (hardly a “tomorrow” sort of fix).  I’ve seen some priests direct servers to place prie-dieux at the head of the Communion lines, but this not only lengthens the time it takes for Communion, it also makes it rather difficult for the people who cannot kneel and must somehow sidestep the prie-dieu without tripping anybody (or themselves) in order to receive--and that’s before we even get to the wheelchair-bound.  The only other alternative is to require people to kneel on the floor (or perhaps on a small cushion) one at a time--still slow, and much more dangerous for lots of people (I’m thinking of pregnant women and women carrying toddlers up to Communion for one group).  And Pat may not realize this, but the people who will have the hardest time with the “all the way to the floor and then back up again” kneeling posture are the women dressed in the longest and fullest-skirted dresses (probably one reason why there were communion rails in the first place).  All of this is before you get to the main problem: the bishops in the US have said that standing is the preferred posture for the reception of Holy Communion and that receiving on the hand is an approved option.  You may not like it, you may think it’s a horrible idea, you may wish that it would be changed, but that is what our ordinaries, to whom we are supposed to be obedient, have determined for the present time.  It is one thing to say that no one is forbidden to kneel and anybody who wants to can--which is true.  It is another to suggest that pastors ought to implement (tomorrow!) as a change in the Mass a requirement for everybody (except the physically impaired) to receive on their knees and on the tongue.  We don’t foster greater respect for the Church by promoting a spirit of disobedience among our pastors.

5. No More Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  Whenever I read things like this, I have to remind myself that people like Patrick Archbold may never have lived in places where one pastor serves two or even three area churches.  I have, several times.  In fact, my current pastor takes care of our mission and a main parish, and we are about to lose him!  Our new pastor will have the same responsibilities.  There is a rumor about an auxiliary or associate pastor or assistant priest, but so far as I know those are still rumors.  There was a deacon when we first got here, but he had to resign from the parish because he could no longer handle the one-hour drive (each way) to get to our parish.  And the parish where our pastor is being sent has 1300 families and a school--and, so far as I know, just the one priest!  If one person has to administer Communion on Sundays at a parish of that size, we’re not talking about a “slight” delay in the Mass.  We’re talking about an impossibility.  And that’s before we get to the problem about the distribution of Holy Communion under both species, which seems to be something the Church wants to have happen at least frequently enough to require helpers (I’ve pondered before whether some clarity on this matter might lead to greater clarity on the question of EMHCs).

6. Appropriate Attire.  Pat leaves this one a bit vague, other than talking about improving vestments (which would be nice, if it can be done, but given the sheer cost of better-made vestments it’s not going to be possible for every parish) and advising the priests to “...teach about the sacredness of women and encourage use of the veil.”  Since I’ve talked this one to death, I’ll just say that women are no more sacred than men, that we are all called to holiness, and that female holiness does not require women to dress like Laura Ingalls or to festoon themselves in lace.  I do agree with Pat about the level of casual that is present (tank top and shorts, etc.) but would argue that it is our society which has become casual; sadly, some people don’t ever dress up for anything and wouldn’t really know how to begin, and given the “business casual” environment in many work places some men no longer own suits as a matter of course, but have to purchase one for special occasions.  As for flip-flops: never say never.  I don’t even like them (can’t stand the strap between the toes) but had no choice but to don them when I broke a toe a few years ago.  I was able to find a “dressy” pair for church, but it was either that or go barefoot.

7. General Reverence and Sacredness.  Pat has several suggestions here.  In quick succession, I’d say: not a huge fan of the Sign of Peace myself either; incense is fine if it’s not the cheap stuff and they don’t put it right next to the choir (cough, cough); it’s not my place to tell the priests or servers what to do and I usually try to be forgiving if somebody messes up; priestly ad libs are annoying but the new translation has helped with that where I am; I care more about what the priest says than whether he’s peripatetic during the homily, but I prefer him to stay in the sanctuary even if he wants to pace a bit.

Now: I want to sum up by first sharing a shocking fact: I used to be just like Patrick.

No, really.  And here’s more.

How and when did I change?  Well, now, that would take some time to figure out.  At some point I stopped being convinced that a few magic changes to the Mass would suddenly produce an atmosphere of peace and reverence, a renewed sense of the sacred, and an unbelievable transformation of the Ordinary Form from the Mass of Community Specialness into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  At some point I started realizing that what I thought of as hard-hitting Catholic commentary was the boring old sin of Pride dressed up in its Sunday best.  At some point I realized that the Ordinary Form is a beautiful Mass regardless of some relatively minor--yes, minor!--mistakes and misdirections that will, I have no doubt, be appropriately addressed in time.

Maybe it was being involved in my parish choir and seeing for myself how much hard work it takes to prepare music for Mass each week when you have people like me, an enthusiastic soprano who is totally untrained and who still can’t really sight-read, filling the choir seats.  Maybe it was hearing from some people about how some song I’m not all that fond of means so much to them because their late husband loved it, or their child who died young used to sing along to it.  Maybe it was watching my dear pastor whom I’m going to miss so much pour himself out in daily service to the people of two churches--and as much as we appreciate him, we can’t possibly appreciate him a tenth as much as he deserves to be appreciated, such a gift from God he has been to us.  Maybe it was realizing that while I’m sneering and liturgically nit-picking Catholics in other parts of the world risk death to get to Mass.  Maybe it was bracing myself for liturgical fights over the new translation only to see it adopted peacefully and quietly by people who seem to have adjusted to it just fine.

Or maybe it was grace, pure and simple.

In any case, I know longer carry around in my mind a magic list of “fixes” that will restore proper sacredness to the Mass once and for all.  But I believe that God is in charge of His Church, that He calls deacons, priests, and bishops to their vocations, and that it is the job of those to whom it has been given to take care of the Mass.  Breaking free of my sinful--I really believe that--attitude toward the liturgy was the gift of a merciful God, and that same God will direct the Church to do with the Mass what He wills she should do.  And that’s really all there is to it, for me, anymore.