Monthly Archives: May 2015

Bless the Little Children

Much has been made recently of a Pew report illustrating a decline in Christianity in America, Catholicism particularly. 

The idea that six Catholics leave the Church for every one who joins it troubles me. However, yesterday I experienced something that gave me more than the hope I needed to realize that the Catholic Church I love so dearly will survive well into the future.

I have two daughters that attend a local Catholic school. My oldest was invited to participate in something called the “Living Rosary,” in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Neither of them had been involved in this activity previously, and because the event is held during the school day, my husband and I had never attended before. How I wish we had.

In the “Living Rosary” children from first through eighth grade serve as the jewels on the Rosary, one for each prayer. Assembled around the Church in the form of a Rosary with a student holding a crucifix at the head, each child starts the prayer they stand for, and the congregation of their classmates, teachers, parents and other parishioners answer back. Older children mark each of the holy mysteries of each decade.

It’s quite simple. There are no costumes, no special decor. No musicians, only two girls beautifully singing “Mary, Gentle Woman” acapella. (They reminded me of two girls in my grade school class who often cantered school Masses. They sang so beautifully. I always dreamed to sing with them, but had no such talent!) Just 200 or so Catholic school children leading prayer. 

I’ve been to Mass with these same kids. And they are kids at Mass. They can’t resist chatting with each other, they zone out, some fall asleep, and at least one is usually escorted out for whatever infraction. Yet yesterday, in our quiet, dimly lit Church, they were attentive, engaged and alert. Many held flowers they had brought to adorn a new statue of the Virgin outside the Church in our parish garden. 

With school coming to an end, I couldn’t help but see the growth these children had experienced through the year. Watching the prayers of the Rosary flow from soon-to-graduate eighth graders to just-beginning first graders was a powerful symbol of how we Catholics are obliged to pass our spiritual traditions on to our children, and they to one another.

They’re all kinds of children. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian. Boys and girls. Princesses and tomboys. Athletes and bookworms. Skinny ones, chubby ones. Ones with glasses, some with various spring injuries, others missing a tooth. A few who forgot to wear their special uniform blue polo.  A reminder that God welcomes us all, no matter our differences, to unite in worship. Such a simple thought. Yet so powerful through the example of these children. 

 As the members of the Rosary and their classmates proceeded from Church to the courtyard to honor Mary with a crown of beautiful spring blossoms, they sang “Hail Holy Queen” with an enthusiasm normally reserved for sports and recess. One by one, class by class they laid their flowers before the Mother of God. Picked from gardens, bought from local stores, pruned from flowering trees. It was an amazing bouquet, fit for a Queen.

There are certainly dynamics working on the population of Catholics in the United States. The faithful come and go, often leaving the Church for purely human reasons – relocation of priests, something said at the pulpit, sour grapes over who’s who in the parish. Yet in so many places, these gems – the Catholic elementary schools that welcome all children to learn – still stand strong. 

These children give me hope. I see their understanding of the basis of Catholicism – they know how to love one another, and how to forgive. As they grow into the adults who will lead the Church, I know Catholicism will live on.

If Your Bored, Your Doing It Wrong

A writer at the Blaze today echoed the voices of teenagers everywhere when it comes to religion. In reference to the already infamous Pew poll that came out yesterday showing Christianity to be in decline, he declared, somewhat in jest, the reason for this to be “Christianity is boring.”

One of the commentors to his post hit the nail on the head. “If it’s boring,” she writes, “you’re doing it wrong.”

Religion, prayers, Sunday services, Mass, etc do not exist to entertain us. They exist to help us come closer to God, to re-energize our resolve to follow His plan, to come together in communion with other believers and to allow us to grow into good, decent people. In case you missed it, Christianity, Catholicism in particular, is HARD. 

Mass is to Catholics what meetings are to alcoholics. Ever heard of rocking AV displays, dancing girls and mind-enhancing music at an AA meeting?  Me either. If you think Mass or whatever kind of Sunday service you go to, if you go to any, should be designed to entertain you, maybe you should leave organized religion. Maybe you are, or should be, one of the six people who have left the Catholic Church for every one who has joined it in recent years.

The Catholic Mass, like other Christian services, is designed to encourage reflection, worship, repentance and many other exercises that help us evaluate and advance our relationship with The Lord. I love a good homilest and engaging priest as much as anyone. When I was in college at the University of Dayton, our provost not only gave a moving homily, he recited the Gospel dramatically. From memory. His Masses were packed to the gills on parents weekends and often held in the field house instead of the chapel.

Yes, he was entertaining, if you want to call it that. “The best priest I ever saw,” my dad used to tell people. But Father was also thought-provoking, challenging and integral in faith formation at UD at that time. He was the priest everyone would want at their parish. But not every parish can have a Father Heft. All priests have gifts to share, but not all are great speakers. At many moments in a lifetime of Masses, we must deal with a variety of priests – the rambler who forgets it’s a 1 p.m. Steeler kick-off, the one who just asks for money, the one who has stage fright, the one who wants to talk lofty theology instead of relate Jesus to parishioners, and so forth.

What makes Mass moving and “entertaining” if you will, is us. When we trust in the sacredness of the Mass, when we allow ourselves to engage in ceremony, to assess our relationship with God, to move past all the other things on our minds and focus on why we’re there in the first place, WE make the Mass meaningful for ourselves. A vibrant priest helps. But theatrics are not the necessary element to finding fulfillment.

The fact that we find Christianity “boring” says a lot more about us than it does about the Church, or about God. His lessons are not easy. We don’t want to hear about the un-Christian things we expose our children to. No one wants to hear about the need to condemn abortion, abuse, gossip, pride and gluttony. We don’t want to feel “uncomfortable” in relationships with gay friends and family because were Catholic. We don’t want to necessarily share our wealth with the poor. We’d rather accept the expertise of pseudo-scholars who tell us God is dead and the ways of the Church, which have challenged believers for millennia, are archaic. But really, what’s old fashioned about listening to your parents, not taking things that aren’t yours, and not sleeping with your neighbor’s husband? Yet we still haven’t conquered these temptations in all our modernness. 

Truly, if entertainment  is really what your looking for, Sunday services actually have it all. Betrayal, sex, incest, murder, war, barbarism, fire and brimstone. And that’s just in the first chapter of the Bible. I had a great high school religion teacher who used to call out verse numbers and make some unsuspecting kid in his class read them aloud. He loved the part where Lot’s daughters decide to seduce their drunk father to ensure that they’ll have children, now that their hometown of Sodom has burned to the ground. 

I wonder what those who declare this boringness would think of those I recently wrote about who would bring all Catholics back to pre-Vatican II Masses where the priest prayed, in Latin, with his back to the congregation. Imagine the disconnection they would feel not being able to understand a single word of the service!

No, people don’t leave the church today because Christianity is boring. They leave it because it’s easier and more fun to follow the crowd on its way to eternal damnation.

Will The Real Catholics Please Stand Up?

Late last week, I had an interesting conversation on Twitter with some Catholic and raised-Catholic millennials. We were discussing our perceptions about God being either a warm fatherly figure or a strict disciplinarian. 

Rather quickly, our topic turned toward what we’ll call “traditional” Catholicism. I talk to lots of Catholics online, and I champion Roman Catholic values and teachings. I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic institutions through graduate school — all post Vatican II. Yet I never really realized, until a local organization of the Society of St. Pious the X (SSPX) “reopened” a closed Catholic church building in my city, just how divided “Catholicism” really is.

There are lots of quotation marks in this post, mostly because I don’t know what to call some of the organizations and groups I’m going to talk about. In my upbringing, those who do not follow the Church in Rome are not “Catholic,” let alone “Roman Catholic.” But, last week, I was shocked when a religious person told me David Zubik, Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh and a very holy man, was not a “true Catholic.”

I had read an article about the SSPX reopening the old St. James church building on Pittsburgh’s West End for regular “traditional” Catholic Mass, or the Latin, pre-Vatican II, Mass. Lots of people have been heralding the beauty of the Latin Mass lately, even actor Michael Keaton, so I thought this was some “Catholic” group I didn’t have knowledge of. But I knew the Diocese of Pittsburgh offered Latin Masses regularly around the city, so it seemed a bit odd they would dedicate one building to Latin Mass.

Later in the story, Bishop Zubik was quoted reminding Roman Catholics that the SSPX was not a sanctioned part of the Roman Catholic Church, and that His flock should be sure to avoid Mass at St. James.  When a blogger I follow on Twitter posted pictures of the church reopening, I dropped him a tweet to let him know about this, and posted the news story. That’s when I heard from SSPX connected “Catholics” that neither I nor my Bishop were “true Catholics.”

So I read a little more about SSPX. They were once part of the Roman Church. A French archbishop started a group with papal encouragement to preserve the Latin Mass after Vatican II. The archbishop wasn’t specifically against Vatican II changes – he voted to move forward with many of them, including the new Mass. But as time wore on, however, his followers developed more and more ideas outside of Roman Catholic teaching. The archbishop eventually became estranged from Rome and was excommunicated by Saint John Paul II for ordaining SSPX bishops to succeed him without papal governance and approval.

Yet some of my Twitter friends seem to think SSPX members are the “real Catholics.” They do have churches and schools across the country, and as a lifelong Catholic, I was surprised by the size of this….”schismatic group” I hadn’t known existed.  I’m sure many of my Roman Catholic friends have never even heard of them, either. And even after research, other than the fact that they attend Latin Mass and don’t follow Rome, I’m not finding a lot of differences – or rather the reasons why they’ve separated themselves from the pope. They just seem to be really conservative “Catholics.”

Yesterday, I was reading about a so-called Catholic parish that ordained a group of female priests. As a lifelong Catholic, I know this is not Rome’s teaching, and is likely to get someone, or someones, excommunicated. These woman are obviously not Roman Catholics or priests, even if they identify themselves as such. I couldn’t help but wonder what SSPX would think of a move like this. This is probably the kind of “church liberalism” that generated their schism in the first place.

But really, in the end, I don’t get either of these groups. Christians, especially Catholics, are under fire across the globe. If we’re honest with ourselves, each Catholic likely has some disagreement with what comes from Rome. Some rule we don’t like or think needs fixing, theologians we all no doubt are. But we’re not all running off to start our own religions because there are both liberal and conservative schools of thought within the church. We hold fast to the tradition and community we love.

For Catholicism to weather the storm it has found itself in, we Catholics should be searching for unity, not dividing ourselves over who agrees or disagrees with what part of the “doctrine.” We believe in the same loving God the Father. We all believe in spreading the good news of his son Jesus Christ. We need to be tolerant of one another, remember we are all sinners and respect the different ways Catholics choose to worship within the rules. Creating the rules is not our place.

Catholics need to redevelop trust in the papacy and the Vatican. But we also need to realize that those leading our Church are still human beings. They make mistakes. They sin. But they are also faced with managing an ancient religion across the cultural, economic, and social divides of the world. If they aren’t moving fast enough, or are moving too fast on whatever our issue might be, we need to be patient in the process, and trust God will inspire.

In the end, we all have our personal relationship with God. We know in our minds that no religion, can meet the ideals of every individual among the millions of its members. But we also know it’s not up to God to agree with what we want Him to be. It’s up to us to change our lives to be what He needs us to be. 

At this point in history, what we need, what Catholicism needs, and what a God needs is for us to focus on what we have in common, and work together to solidify our Catholic faith and preserve the many facets of its history for centuries to come.