There's a maligned segment of America's Catholic population in sore need of a defender. I have looked in the mirror, and found that I am he.
I come before you today, on behalf of a wrongly reviled people: the wholly un-charismatic contingent of Catholics who want to go to Mass quietly and anonymously, support their parish financially, then go in peace to love and serve the Lord--without also having to serve on a committee.
I hear quite a bit about how anonymous Catholic parishes can be, as if "anonymous" and "heretical" were synonyms.
Some of the criticism comes, earnest and sincere, from outgoing cradle Catholics who'd like to see good ol' American community spirit take hold at the parish level. These are the amazingly involved people who somehow manage to stretch the 24-hour day to heroic limits. They've observed Protestant churches, and developed what might be called extroversion-envy.
Some of it comes from people who--despite our legendary standoffishness--have entered the church from one of the Protestant denominations. These people have observed various somber Catholic parishes and developed what might be called introversion-aversion.
Sometimes criticism even comes from lifelong Catholics who wouldn't greet a stranger if he'd just pulled them away from an oncoming bus. These are the same people who always agree that "something should be done about it," then refuse to answer the phone when there's a meeting being planned. These folks suffer from . . . you guessed it: extroversion-aversion.
As far as I'm concerned, all of the above are fine by me. It takes all kinds to make the universal church.
Personally, sometimes I kinda like being ignored.
In my 20s, I visited Salt Lake City--Mormonism's answer to Rome--on a business trip.
While there, I took the public tour of the Latter-day Saints' world headquarters. I went on the tour because I've always had an interest in the beliefs of other and because I wanted to see the source of an unsuccessful but impressively devout missionary visit that was paid on my home a few years before.
I was also feeling socially ecumenical toward a young Mormon lady I had met at the local television station.
Back to the tour, during which I was battered lovingly with multimedia propaganda and the constant attention of various volunteers. I felt so un-ignored that I half expected to find these people on every channel of the TV set at my hotel later on, trying to sell me a car.
Instead of trying to sell me something, somebody actually gave me money that day. The last guy I talked to on the way out gave me an Eisenhower dollar and told me to keep it "until the day you die." What I'm supposed to do with it that day he didn't say.
Attentive as those very devoted people were, they came nowhere near close to dislodging my standoffish cradle Catholicism. But all that friendliness and dedication to reaching out evangelistically was indeed impressive.
We Catholics really don't do enough of that sort of thing. But in trying to get people to be more outreach-y, we also have to remember that the Catholic Church is the universal church. That means, there's room for everybody--sourpusses included.
Conversion doesn't necessarily mean converting from introvert to extrovert. If you're not a glad-handing sort of person in everyday life, why should anyone expect you to turn magically into a glad-hander the second you step through the door of your parish church? And if you do, who's to say that everybody else who comes through that door wants to meet you or get involved with you on any more than a passerby level?
"You're on the welcoming committee? That's great. See ya!"
Sometimes, people just want to be left alone.
For instance, I can understand being reluctant to hold hands with strangers at Mass.
Now don't get your shorts in a bunch. I'm not a vehement anti-handholder, but I'm not a promiscuous "across the aisle" kind of guy either. I'm what you might call selective. I hold my wife's hand every week during the "Our Father." If there happens to be a devout extramarital handholder nearby extending a hand toward me, I certainly won't refuse it.
But devout extramarital handholders shouldn't be too upset if their outreach is refused. People may be practicing learned caution. Just as a handshake can lead to a contractual agreement with unknown perils, so too can an innocently accepted handhold lead you down an unintended path.
Once in Southern California, I attended the first Mass at which I ever experienced "Our Father outreach." It was in Santa Monica (a nice, Catholic-sounding town). The entire congregation joined hands, even across the aisles, in the moments leading up to a highly energetic musical version of that greatest of prayers.
I don't recall what, if any, kind of liturgical segue they used, but the music barreled straight through to "For the kingdom, the power and the glory," at which point everybody in the place lifted their hands way up in the air, taking mine with them. We now looked like the audience at a Neil Diamond concert during the chorus of "Sweet Caroline." (That's not to pick on Neil, by the way. I like Neil. In fact, I have a lot of Neil Diamond records and absolutely no Marie Osmond records.)
With all those hands, including mine, up in the air, I got immediately distracted from the Mass. I found it a very inward sort of outward gesture. It seemed too unique to that parish and too unfamiliar to anyone who had stopped by simply to be present at the Holy Sacrifice. As an outsider, I felt I was intruding on a very personal moment. I should add, to be fair, that I'm sure the locals didn't think I was.
There are a lot of people who get that outsider feeling in their very own parishes every Sunday simply because they're not naturally gregarious, simply because they aren't effusive people by nature, simply because--just like their more outgoing fellow parishioners-- they reflect their personalities in the practice of their faith.
Catholic parishes may benefit from a dose of that ol' time fellowship, and from outreach both physical and social. But let's not forget to measure the dose, so we don't foul up the prescription.
They also serve who simply stand, kneel, ante up, and go home quietly.