Monday, July 4, 2011

St. Paul's - Why I Did What I Did

My brother Tony (a seminarian for the Archdiocese) was talking with me yesterday about an interesting experience he had. Tony doesn't read my blog, and had not heard about any of the stuff going on here - so his story wasn't something he shared with me based on any of this - but I think it is related.

He is at a parish in southern Indiana this summer, and yesterday after one of the Masses he heard one of the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion talking about how she dropped a host during Mass, picked it up, put it in her pocket, and just threw it in the trash after Mass. My brother said she was also chewing gum during Mass when she received Communion and continued while she was distributing Communion as well. My brother said that, at that moment, in his mind he snapped and he had a revelation – “if we don't do the Mass the way the Church is asking us to do it, this stuff will only continue.” He said he wasn't even mad at the woman because she obviously didn't KNOW any of what she had done was wrong. This isn't some isolated incident, nor is it any commentary to that specific parish or priest - this type of thing is EVERYWHERE in the Church today everywhere I go. I don't mean that no one understands what is going on, but the percentage of those who do get it across our country just seems to be so small. What my brother has realized is what has been said by many for going on 45 years now - if we don't do what the Church asks - we're doomed.

This video of George Thoroughgood in Mass for me represents a lot. I don't ask people to understand my rage towards it, and I am fine with being called a mixture of any of the following
1) a liturgical nazi
2) orthodoxy police
3) Pharisee
4) scrupulous
5) angry
6) not differentiated
7) psychotic
8) a person who doesn't follow (insert Scripture passage here about charity)
9) a person causing rupture in the body of Christ

The point is this - I was ordained a priest and a FATHER. If people are subtly or not so subtly undermining the source of salvation for a father's children, we would expect a strong response. I (and the Church) see me as a FATHER in charge of souls (as Canon Law puts it) and I don't take that LIGHTLY. I don't expect people who don't have that responsibility laid at their feet to understand, but I am saying that is how I view myself, and that is how I approach things day to day. I constantly pray for and fast for the kids that I have been charged to care for at Ritter, and the kids who I've worked with throughout the Archdiocese through Confirmation programs and mission trips and so forth, and when I see them ending up at a place where the Mass as the Church has handed it on is subtly undermined - I'm coming with the grizzly paw. An analogy here - if porn came on the TV my dad would take the TV out into the backyard and smash it with a sledge hammer. I believe that people who are undermining the Mass (and also those who undermine the Church's core teachings on contraception/homosexuality/abortion/women's ordination/etc.) are doing far worse than people who put porn on our TV’s.

Some say I should have handled things with the individuals involved and not gone public with my displeasure. The problem is that the scandal caused by this video was PUBLICLY done. Put yourself in the position of a priest and now imagine that a reporter in the local paper writes an article trashing the Catholic Church. You as the priest would contact the individual reporter, but you’d also HAVE to address the issue in a public fashion because the scandal was public. Would you let this reporter potentially draw thousands of your parishioners away from your Church, and then say at the end of the day, “well, I contacted him in person, so my duty is done”? And yet the incident we’ve been dealing with here (and thousands like it) are scandalous, and not just from the standpoint of being offensive to “my personal taste or preference for things.”

Unorthodox liturgy is problematic for a couple of reasons.
a) it conveys an image to the modern person that what is going on is not really important. As that mentality starts to creep in, over the course of decades of being ground down by it, people start to actually believe (although they’d never say it) that the Mass isn’t really all that important. So we get the pandemic we have today where most Catholics don’t even go to Mass every Sunday (not to mention the roughly 2% parish turnout for most holy days). And pretty soon you start getting people chewing gum, wearing swimming trunks and basketball shorts, and throwing the Eucharist away in the trash – and not knowing any better. Again, when we jack with the liturgy and turn it into what it often is today, why would someone know that the Eucharist is special unless they heard a priest preach on it or they were taught at an early age?

b) free-for-all liturgies are also eroding away at the Body of Christ because people start seeing videos like the one we’ve been talking about and they say, “well, if there isn’t anything transcendent at Mass, that Mass rock song looks like fun, why can’t we do that at my parish – at least it would help the time pass a little easier.” Those who are trying to do what the Church asks are undermined by priests who tolerate or even encourage all the banality and all of the trash that passes for “liturgy” today.

And thus we come to my final beef – betrayal. Priests who tolerate this stuff and perpetuate dissent on core teachings of the faith and priests who tolerate and perpetuate a disintegration of the Mass ultimately are betraying their brothers who are trying to do what Christ has commanded and asked of ALL priests through the Church. It is much easier to undermine the mission of the Church from within than it is from without. I put my rear end on the line every day trying to explain the Church’s difficult teachings, trying to celebrate Mass in a way that removes me from center stage emceeing and instead puts Christ at the center – and none of this work is very popular. I hear all the time
a) you could be a lot more normal during Mass, what’s up with the hands, the chanting, the formality?
b) why don’t you just give us practical advice about how to live our lives? Why the dogma stuff sprinkled in?

Do you know how easy it would be to sell out and be a “COOL” priest – a guy who let anything go in the Mass and who avoided ever talking about anything substantive in homilies? People act like the orthodox priesthood is some kind of safe haven for those with personality defects when in fact it is hard and difficult and something that brings a lot of anger upon the priest. But I know, at the end of the day, that it would TOO easy to live that way as a priest, and ultimately I know, in the depth of my soul, that Christ is saying “shepherd my people, love them too much to let them stay where they are, just as I love you too much to let you stay where you are.” When my head hits the pillow at night, I rest well, and I love getting up in the morning. You can psychoanalyze my priesthood if you so choose, but the fact of the matter is that there is nothing I’d rather be doing. John Paul II once said, “They try to understand me from the outside, but you can only understand me from the inside.” Amen!

I have nothing more to say on this topic, and I will not be responding to any comments left on this entry or on the original post. Let’s pray for unity in the Church not throw watering everything down into nothing but through actually believing that Christ speaks through His Church, and treating the treasure that the Church offers us with the dignity it deserves!