I’ve been thinking lately, as I watch the skyrocketing numbers of people watching daily Masses (895 people watched my parish’s Saturday Mass, in whole or in part–a Mass that *might* get 75 ordinarily) and other religious formation events online, that we as Church have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when the bans are lifted and we are together again.
People will be back, and they will be spiritually hungry; for the first time in years, they will have been forced–collectively–to examine their lives. Not that individuals among us haven’t had this experience before, but now we’ve done it as a Church. This means that we, collectively, as Church will be aware of the gift that is the parish, the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy, and our communities.
We need to be ready for this. We’re going to have a window that we have not had in my lifetime, for sure, and maybe for many generations. We don’t want to squander this. People who recognize the gift they’ve been given are people who are more open to giving back. We have to be ready to give what’s needed and to ask for help.
And if we take advantage of this window, we could revitalize our weary, beaten-down Church.
I’ve never succumbed to communal panic about crises. The closest I came was my senior year of high school, when some dude who’d “never been wrong” in predicting an earthquake predicted the biggest one ever on the New Madrid Fault, and it happened to line up with the day I was out of town auditioning for all-state band. I think my response was to pack a blanket in the car.
So it felt very… wrong… somehow, yesterday, to go to the grocery store a day early and spend more than twice what I normally spend on a week’s worth of groceries to freeze–vegetables, snack packs with nuts & cheese, milk & pizza makings. It felt like abandoning a long-held principle.
But if things do follow recent patterns, we could find ourselves quarantined in our home for two weeks, and if that happens, well, I have six people to feed. Extra groceries seems like a reasonable precaution.
Here’s what I’m realizing this week: in the coronavirus era, more than ever, living the faith intentionally requires humility and self-checking one’s biases.
I, for instance, have been very resistant to the limitations on worship that have come down. But I remind myself that devotion to purity of worship is a golden calf just as deadly as idols of political philosophy or money. There are immuno-compromised people to consider, and their dignity is more important than the externals of worship.
We all have some hangup to get over. Some people are so certain that “on the tongue” is the only proper way to receive the Eucharist, they are unwilling to bend in the interest of public health. Others insist we shouldn’t ban the Cup or stop the sign of peace because obviously God will protect us.
For all of us, the coronavirus outbreak is a wakeup call. For years, we’ve been warned that something like this was inevitable, but we all shrugged it off.
And now that it’s here, we’re reaping the fruit of our collective failure to listen and compromise. While Americans up and down the political food chain have been busy screaming at each other about a handful of hot button issues, a bunch of critical things have been ignored. We’re not prepared for a health crisis like the one China and Italy have been facing. This morning, a family member sent the text of an article from the Economist (a British magazine which is rated “least biased” by Media Bias/Fact Check, a rare distinction), which stated that “In 2010 the CDC budget was $12.7 billion in current dollars; today it is $8 billion.”
Meanwhile, the talk in some quarters is more tax cuts. Tax cuts *might* stimulate some minor economic movement (although with everything closed/canceled, what are we going to spend it on?), but the nation is already deeply in debt. You can’t keep cutting government’s funding and expect it to be able to carry out its proper function–i.e. the protection of the population.
Our basic vocation as Christians is to care for each other. Sometimes that’s on an individual basis, person to person. But if we want to be a “Christian” nation, then we should view that as a collective, societal vocation. To accomplish that is going to require taxes. Taxes are not evil; the pandemic illustrates that some functions simply *cannot* be carried out on an individual basis. They *require*, by definition, centralized intervention. We can’t hold any philosophy, whether it’s Communion under both species, Communion on the tongue, or low taxes, so tightly that we give up the thing that’s most important–the Christian call to care for each other.
And of course, there’s the ongoing stain of the sex abuse scandal.
Given all this, it was pretty demoralizing when that Pew research survey came out a few months ago. The one suggesting that Catholics don’t even really understand the one thing that, above all others, defines us: the Eucharist.
Today I want to offer two points as words of hope. First, this article. Words matter, and the way the Pew questions were written, many of us would hesitate, caught between our faith and the way certain words are used in the modern secular world. I mentioned this at choir practice shortly after the survey came out, when people were expressing their dismay about the survey, and a recent convert, who had to navigate those waters on the way into the Church, nodded vigorously in agreement. The authors of this analysis suggest a more hopeful picture, and their argument resonates with me.
Which brings me to the second point: part of the reason for that resonance is an experience I had when I was working as a full-time liturgy director. I was jaded even then about the view and understanding of the Eucharist among the average Catholic Mass-goer. Convinced that most people really didn’t “get” it.
Then one day, when we had a no-show, I substituted as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister.
It was an amazing experience. One after another, people raised their eyes and their hands. The looks on their faces remain with me to this day: raw, naked, vulnerable, longing, hopeful, reverent, transfigured. Those people knew they were receiving Jesus. Knew it at a visceral level that tells a truth far deeper than any survey can illuminate. By the end of Communion, I was nearly in tears.
So when the division in the Church seem ready to rip us apart at the seams—when despair tries to get a hold on my heart—I choose to hope. To believe that what I was taught as a child remains true now: the Spirit is in control, that we are led at this point in time by the person the Spirit knows we need, and that nothing can destroy the Church. Not even us.
I am often guilty of trying to control everything, to take charge and fix what I see needs fixing on the strength of my own convictions and abilities. Since I’ve been quite opinionated the last two days on matters of liturgical music, I put this out as a reminder to all of us who feel passionately about liturgy–myself above all–that God is in charge, not me. That if I try to lean on my own understanding, I’m going to make things worse, not better.
Come, Holy Spirit. Sweep us along with you, and get us where You meant us to be all along.
This whole section of Evangelii Gaudium is talking about unity (as distinct from uniformity) and diversity. Bear with me, or better yet just go read it yourself, because it may seem strange that I’m zeroing in on liturgy.
Evangelii Gaudium says the message of the Gospel has been “closely associated with” some cultures, but that doesn’t mean the culture is essential to the message (117). “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture.” (118)
127-8 talk about how for most of us, opportunities for evangelization come one on one in personal settings, and suggests how that might look–but then 129 warns against being slavish to a particular formulation. This opens up a discussion of the many and varied charisms within the Church, which brings us to this quote and the one I will share tomorrow.
So it’s not specifically about liturgy, but the liturgy wars demonstrate clearly the confusion between unity and uniformity–specifically as regards music. That final sentence: “This is not helpful for the Church’s mission,” is what ties it all back to evangelization. Liturgy is the source of our strength to go out and accomplish the Church’s mission of bringing people to Christ and unfolding the Kingdom on Earth, but if the summit of our faith is corrupted by bickering over guitar vs. organ and whether drums are actually part of the culture and whether pop styles are intrinsically inappropriate for liturgy–etc., etc.–if we’re pouring all our emotional energy into fighting over these issues, how are we supposed to evangelize anyone? More to the point, why would anyone want to join that Church?
In other words: “Not helpful for the Church’s mission.”
I want to spend a few days pondering liturgy. The Eucharistic celebration is the “source and summit” of our faith, which to me means it is the spiritual food that strengthens us for discipleship in the real world, and it’s also the purest expression of our faith, uncomplicated by the messiness we experience outside the walls.
Because we waste a lot of energy fighting about liturgy. My higher ed degrees are both in music performance, so I’m well steeped in classical music. But it’s contemporary music that lit me on fire and has shaped my Catholic identity as an adult.
So I react pretty strongly when people try to dismiss entire styles or instruments as “less worthy” or even “unworthy.” We all have things that speak to us more authentically and deeply than others. They’re not the same from person to person, because we are fearfully and wonderfully made, in diversity as wide as the creativity of God. We have no business trying to box in the Holy Spirit, Who inSpires across all eras, all cultures, and all artistic styles.
(Note: I am celebrating my 20th anniversary this week with a trip with my husband. As you can imagine, a work-at-home mother of 4 trying to pull off an anniversary trip means a LOT of logistical planning, so this week I’m sharing, unedited, a post originally published on my personal blog. The time references may not be contemporary, but the issues are definitely still with us.)
We are losing the youth–and everyone else who’s leaving organized
religion–because they think it’s a bunch of B.S. A conspiracy made to
pacify the ignorant and keep the masses in line. And why do they think
Because we call ourselves Christians, and we don’t act like Christ. We say we believe, but then refuse to act like believing changes everything. We talk big and then we talk trash about others. We act as if the aesthetics and the personal preferences are what it’s all about.
In simple language, we’re losing people because we’re hypocrites.
Even, and sometimes especially, those of us who are the most involved in
In every Catholic discussion, Vatican II seems to be the lightning
rod. Someone always says that whatever problem we were facing was caused
by V2 because it didn’t exist before that, and if only we went back to
the way things were fifty years ago, all our problems would go away. As
if somehow people were intrinsically holier then, instead of simply
doing what was culturally expected. Fifty years ago, people went to
church whether or not they really wanted to, not because they were
better Catholics, but because that’s what everyone did.
These days, church is not what everyone does, so people don’t do it.
And that’s not a change caused by Vatican II. That happened in the
context of a larger world. All matters of faith are lived in and
influenced by the context of the larger world, and that is as it should
be. We aren’t “of” the world, but we do live “in” it. We can’t possibly
hope to leaven the world if we stand apart and wag our finger at it. You
have to dive in.
I know that’s scary. Each of us has a vision for the way the world
should be, and it’s pretty cut and dried. But the world isn’t black and
white. It’s a complex, interwoven mess. You tug on one string and every
other one is affected. There are no simple solutions to any of the
issues we face.
The world is messy, and the more you get down in the muck, the more you realize your pat answers don’t–can’t–stand
unassailable in the face of the real world. You find yourself forced to
reconsider, to shift your dearly-held philosophies to make room for
circumstances that don’t fit neatly into the box you’ve made.
Nobody likes having to do that. But if you just keep confirming
yourself in your own rightness, it pretty soon becomes
self-righteousness, and self-delusion. And then your faith, strong as
you think it is, ends up ringing very false to others. They might not
know why, but they’ll sense the underlying conflict.
And then they figure, if this is what faith is, I don’t want any part of it.
We can’t ever stop seeking deeper truth. And that search is exercise for the soul. Like physical exercise, it hurts, because it begins with breaking down the boundaries of the muscle in order to make room for expansion.
But at its basic level, that spiritual exercise begins because we go out and we do something with our faith. It’s in the doing that we experience the things that challenge our presumptions and assumptions. Don’t tell me all the reasons it can’t be done. Do something about it. You may not succeed, you may fall flat on your face, but do something.
This is what Pope Francis keeps saying over and over. Sure, worship
is important, but worship is not the most important thing; worship
is the spiritual food for doing the real work of Christianity. Dosomething.
If all of us who call ourselves Christians heeded his call, it would be a game changer.