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Selective Faith

posted by awelborn

Committing oneself to focusing on Jesus during the liturgy isn’t selling out.

It’s a good thing.

Experiencing a deeper communion with the Lord during a liturgy marked by “bad” music and inadequate homilies and a host of other faults isn’t a character flaw.

Believing that Jesus is present, no matter what, isn’t giving up.

It’s called faith.

There is a time and a place for everything. There is a time for study, for letter-writing, for serious and uncompromising meetings with pastors and bishops. There’s a time to blog, there’s a time to publicly raised concerns about bishops and pastors, there’s a time to write op-eds, there’s a time to write to the Vatican. There’s a time to get involved with parish administration and charitably question the qualifications of the liturgist or music coordinator or religious ed director. There’s a time to switch parishes. There’s a time to withhold contributions from the diocesan fund.

But the Mass is not the time for any of those things.

Look, I go (usually) to the most white-bread, externally dull liturgies in the United States of America. When we have our fill of the non-Catholic music ministers stylings, we take a break and go to another parish, which is not exactly inspiring, but isn’t self-conscious, either.

(And that, I would suggest is the big difference, when you get beyond issues of language and orientation and so on. We are here to serve God through the liturgy, not to manipulate the liturgy to serve us. It is this self-consciousness and egocentricity that is so destructive. You can tell the difference, no matter what language is spoken or even what rite is used. The problem, as I think I said last week, is that the current rite, as well as how its proper use isn’t enforced by bishops, lends itself to easily to manipulation and ego-satisfaction. But, given prayerful presiders – it happens. More frequently than some of our posters would like to admit, too.)

But do you know what? No matter what, I never fail to come away without some sense that I have met the Lord. It is not easy – but for me, that’s mostly because of Joseph.

Which is why I feel so disconnected from so many of your comments.

People say “I need to hear some more reality and toughness from the pulpit.” Why? It would certaintly help us all, but I don’t need to hear that. All I have to do is listen to the Scripture readings. It doesn’t really matter what the priest says about them (sorry, Fathers!) – I mean, that is not decisive for me. What is decisive and what impacts me is what I hear in the Scriptures. If it’s authentically reinforced -great. But the Word of God as I hear it proclaimed is enough.

People say, “I just want to be able to pray.” Well, so do I, and as I said, my biggest challenge is the constant movement of a toddler. But, although I’m no paradigm of spirituality, if I have a problem praying during Mass, I can’t ever, for the life of me, blame it on anyone else (sorry, Joseph!) but myself. Jesus is present to me – gosh, even the few seconds I have alone as I walk back from Communion fills me to the brim. In those moments, I always, always, no matter where I am, am conscious of Jesus’ Real Presence with me – I guess I have experienced enough “ah-ha” moments in that post-commmunion time that I know I can’t do anything but be attentive to what Jesus wants to say to me.

I am not perfect. Obviously, if you have read this blog, you’ve had your fill of the critic and the judge that’s always waiting to come out. But I have learned that this is just not the proper attitude and it is completely contrary to what Jesus wants me to be during the Mass. That doesn’t mean passivity and quietism outside of Mass – obviously. But my call during Mass is not to judge anyone else, not to be bitter or angry, but to be open to Christ. Who comes in the most surprising and mysterious ways.

This is not diminish the importance of anyone’s struggle or pain. But what else can I say? I want the liturgy to be reformed in this country and for presiders and liturgists to get off their high horses and for bishops to lay down the law, and for the Church in the US to get its act together. But if I let all that come between me and Christ during the Mass…who has won that battle?

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Will Duquette

posted March 27, 2004 at 10:05 am

Well said! Bravo!

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posted March 27, 2004 at 10:49 am

Maybe I’m a bit suspicious of the whole “pretty liturgy, good homily” thing, I’ll admit. You see, at my old parish, the priest everybody liked, who did good Masses and preached good homilies…the one who said the only Latin Mass I ever heard during my school years…well, he turned out to have been an abuser. The friendly happy young priest who did great sermons that kids loved…he was an abuser, too.
It was the monotone pastor who always chased us kids away from the rectory, who wouldn’t let his associate priests go to Boy Scout events, whom everybody thought was such a boring and maybe mean old stick, who was really taking care of us and doing his best for us, as far as the archdiocese would let him.
(And hey, that soothing monotone was a great inducement to mystical prayer…as long as you’d gotten enough sleep that it was more like a trance than a nap!)
Also, the most hippie-like seventies priest in training ever assigned to my old parish — the one with the beard and sandals and guitar — was the one who actually taught us kids some real and orthodox theology in his goofy little school Mass homilies. I’m still chewing on some of the stuff he said.
Meanwhile, the priest who was the most orthodox ever assigned to the old parish, the one who actually dared to do fire and brimstone homilies, was also the one who, after becoming pastor, decided that he could take up whole homilies talking about where we should sit in the pews and how people didn’t like him enough.
So, basically, I’d rather have a liturgy that’s clumsy or goofy rather than the proverbial whited sepulchre. (Although of course the Eucharist is still good even if it comes “from the mouth of a dead dog”. Which, if I understand the theory correctly, is the only reason why you can get a valid sacrament at SSPX Masses, btw.)
Now, I’m not saying that’s always the way. The best organists and church singers I’ve known have been the most prayerful and usually the most traditional, and the priests in my present parish do a good job in all things and like tradition too. Heck, I sing myself, and I’m all about honoring God with aesthetics. But there are definitely worse things out there than a boring or annoying liturgy.
I would rather give people’s behavior the benefit of the doubt then pretend that I know there’s disrespect in their hearts. If I have a problem with something, I can always take it to them after Mass or say something quiet and unobtrusive. But during Mass, my focus should be on God. Anything that helps me is great. Anything that doesn’t help should be ignored.
(It’s a lot like the principle behind dealing with mistakes in singing. If you keep going, you and everybody else can forget it. If you let yourself falter and then dwell on it, you just keep messing up worse and worse.)
I know sometimes that’s a lot of work. Maybe because I’m a cradle Catholic born after Vatican II, I’m just used to doing that kind of work. But even the great saints had to deal with pinheads and spiritual dryness, and I really don’t recall being promised a rose garden.
In fact, I still have trouble dealing with how great things are in my current parish. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s not natural for things to be well run…. ;)

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Sulpicius Severus

posted March 27, 2004 at 10:49 am

Thank Mary Our Queen you have not yet reached your straw/breaking point. UIOGD,

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James Kabala

posted March 27, 2004 at 10:49 am

I agree. A great post.

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posted March 27, 2004 at 12:51 pm

Amen, Amy! Thanks for adding some much-needed perspective.

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posted March 27, 2004 at 1:38 pm

Okay, what are we going to do 20 years from now when “The Greatest Generation” is dead, and Mass attendance drops down to 5%, from today’s 25%?
Why is it that I do not see the church filled with the school students and their families? Why am I asked to contribute to an ever growing number of fund-raisers so that SUV driving parents can use our parochial school as a bargain-basement alternative to private schools?

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Glenn Juday

posted March 27, 2004 at 4:19 pm

For the problem you addressed, you have provided a thoughtful, balanced, and spiritually mature reflection that I think we can all appreciate and benefit from.
My perception of the thread that led up to this point is that many commenters were addressing the problem as you framed it, but a few were focused on another, and indeed more serious problem. I am amazed at how many Catholics can spontaneously provide personal knowledge of liturgical abuses that go off the charts. These experiences go beyond matters of taste, preference, homoletic skill, muscality, architectural options, and into the realm of blasphemy. You can’t encounter Christ in blasphemy.
So, thank you for calming down the discussion. It is not my intention to get folks all riled up again. But just as you have taken a principled, and for a time lonley, stand about clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups by pointing out “we can’t ignore this” neither can we ignore a situation where the Holy sacrifice of the Mass has become a vehicle for blasphemy or systematic (not inadvertant) promotion of heresy. Praise be to God it may be happening less frequently now. But when it happens, Catholics in the pews are confronted with some tough choices, and I for one have not heard my bishop, the U.S. Conference of bishops, or the Vatican give us guidance on what to do. As near as I can tell, the consensus is keep quiet while it is occurring, discuss the matter with you priest, and if necessary report to the bishop. Remarkably like the consensus of how to deal with the sexual abouse crisis. Well, I recognize that civil law (vocation of the laity) does not apply, so no externally imposed remedy is possible. If the bishops don’t wan’t to eliminate blasphemy or systematic herresy from the liturgical life of the Church, it will persist. I think the value of your reflection as a lay woman as it relates to such a situation is to avoid personal sins, including sinfulf anger, the sin of despair, or the sin of uncharity, and avail oneself of the graces that are present. To which I say – amen.

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posted March 27, 2004 at 9:23 pm

The liturgy will transform the culture or the culture replaces the liturgy. In our case, the latter is ongoing. Your very thoughtful analysis not withstanding one is either part of the problem or part of the solution. The current liturgy is irreformable and will gradually deconstruct the faith. First among the poorly catechized but almost no one will be immune. The church will survive in the islands of lay associations and similar groupings only. It may be enough. Then we can start all over gain.

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posted March 27, 2004 at 10:30 pm

I just have to say that I really appreciate Ms Welborn’s post here. It is so good, IMO, that I’m pretty much going to accept it as the authoritative conclusion to the whole discussion.
But even having said that, I want to say thanks to Mr Juday for his post, in which he makes the very important observation that there were really two different issues being addressed in all those liturgy threads (liturgical quality and liturgical abuse). Perhaps the discussion suffered somewhat because we all tended to think that we were talking about a single issue when we really weren’t.

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posted March 28, 2004 at 1:16 am

Good job Amy, good observation Ottanbrus. If it took the dialouge to tease this out of Amy, it was worth it. Good points were made and some of the best are in Amy’s post. The sickness has to be diagnosed before the cure can be prescribed. Amy, thanks for providing a forum to investigate both.

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posted March 28, 2004 at 10:55 am

Maybe some of it was taken wrong too. No one, that I heard anyway, said that we were to stop praying just because we are discouraged, outraged, upset, etc….
The fact is that no matter how upset I have gotten with the abuses, the perversion, the clear stupidity/duplicity & confusion of some of the situations I have seen as a Cahtolic, I have stayed and kept praying through the uproar around me. And I think a great many Catholics have done the same thing. I stay for the truth of the deposit of the faith, and overlook many other things.
So, it is important not to jump to conclusions here, because I think that is what has happened on this blog. There are a great many people who look to God for their direction and slog through the crap in their parish/diocese. It doesn’t mean that they are traitors, etc. if they honestly point out the messes, and it shouldn’t be taken that way. The real traitors are the ones who don’t care enough to find out, contribute to the confusion, or don’t care, period. The real traitors are the ones who turn around and deny the various crises, or turn around and refuse to discuss behavior contributing to the crises, while letting them continue unabated.
I have appreciated the honesty seen on this blog in previous weeks, actually. I am a convert, as many of you know, and I have found it confusing and unpleasant in many ways to be Catholic. That’s not unusual for converts. I personally think that most Catholics are liars about these things, or at least in serious denial. It has done me a lot of good to see some honesty, a rare thing among many Catholics these days.

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posted March 28, 2004 at 11:16 am

It has been my experience in nearly 20 years as a Catholic that progressives frequently (often!) lie to get what they want, and neo-conservatives frequently (often!) lie to preserve the only islands of security they can point to, which usually turn out to be individuals, one in particular, who may not deserve such personal adulation.
It has also been my experience as a Catholic that most Catholics are impervious to criticism of the Church (as they know it–local and provincial) simply because they think it’s above criticism no matter what it does. As if it were God. As if it didn’t involve itself with the likes of Bishop Hubbard, O’Brien, (fill in the blank),et al.
Above the obvious repulsion, this is why the abuse crisis was such a bombshell. Now every faction in the Church is trying, somehow, to leverage that bombshell (but from the local understandings so many Catholics are limited to). It’s sick. And the fact of the matter is, we’d better look past our repulsion and knee-jerk responses into those camps or we’re going to be in real trouble. We’d better look at a bigger picture.
The truths (of all the various crises) are what they are; they’re not going to go away; and we’d better be thinking about what they are and what we’re going to do to get straight with them, eh?

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posted March 28, 2004 at 9:56 pm

Hee! I guess I shouldn’t have mouthed off so much about ignoring distractions, because Mass today was noisy toddler central! Usually the munchkins are either out in the vestibule or listening more or less quietly, but today they must have had spring fever. The ultimate bit was when Father said “This is my body” and a toddler screamed, “NO!” (It was much funnier after Mass than during, though.) Which still didn’t mean it was impossible to concentrate, but it did take serious effort. So possibly I’ve gotten too used to having to make that effort, and thus overlook the problem noise makes for others?
However, when I sang the 12:30, it was silent as a ghost. Of course, the 12:30 at my parish doesn’t have all that many people there. (Which I still can’t get over since at my old parish the 12:30 was heavily populated.) So maybe that’s another thought for folks — going to the less populated Masses, like the 8:00.
So I was thinking… if folks are really worried about silence in church, why doesn’t somebody put together some kind of brochure or holy card on the idea of being quiet? (Maybe a picture of Elijah listening for the still small voice, eh?) A lot of people honestly may not know that they’re supposed to be quiet, especially if their parents didn’t teach them that. If they knew, they might do something about it.
Also…you don’t like to do it too often and you certainly have to pick your time wisely. But it’s amazing how a “shhhhhh” can carry, even in a very large auditorium or church. And people will get quiet when they hear it. Oh yes. So if all else fails, I guess you can always get in touch with your inner old nun and shush everyone in general.
Either of these things would certainly be better than brooding and eating at ourselves during Mass.
But seriously…if you’re depressed or spiritually dry enough, no Mass is going to be well enough performed. If you’re getting a lot of spiritual goodies at the moment, there’s probably no Mass that could be bad enough to throw you off. In general, you’re always going to have some kind of potential distraction, even if the Vatican’s choir was performing in the Sistine Chapel while the Pope was celebrating Mass, and Shakespearean actors were lectors, and priests who were also living saints were distributing Communion. You have to let this stuff roll off your back, or you _will_ eat yourself up.

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posted March 28, 2004 at 11:47 pm

No, Maureen, that’s the little stuff. It fits in there with altar girls, bad clothes and 1960s posters. It’s the really awful stuff that gets me. Somewhere else on this blog I posted a partial list of stuff I have seen with my own eyes which are definitive violations of the Roman Missal, definitive violations of Canon law, or outright denials of the Gospels. That’s the stuff that torches me.

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posted March 28, 2004 at 11:51 pm

If your house catches fire, you don’t just stand there and watch it burn just because you have insurance.

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Rob S.

posted March 29, 2004 at 1:30 pm

When the service seems annoying, try focusing on the things you DO have, rather than what you don’t. As a Catholic married to a Methodist, and having attended Methodist services for the better part of the last ten years (for reasons too long to get into here), trust me on this one – your complaints about the music director will seem small. Consider the annoyances a reminder of the (imperfect) humanity Christ came to save.

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posted March 30, 2004 at 10:37 pm

Perhaps people aren’t understanding what I’m saying? This is in response to the last post. I’m not carping about the trivial stuff, off-key music etc. I am pointing out that there are real abuses which are serious, very serious. Serious enough to be called contradictions of canon law or liturgical law, or even called heresy. This is hardly a matter of taste and that is precisely my point.

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