That Warm Fuzzy Feeling
Families with children are the fastest-growing demographic at St Susanna Catholic Church in Mason. The Rev Dan Schuh credits much of the church's growth to his predecessor, the Rev Harry Meyer, pastor from 1998-2005. (Photo by Meggan Booker/The Enquirer)
Rich Leonardi highlights a profile in The Cincinnati Enquirer today, about a parish north of Cincinnati, in a town called Mason, known as Saint Susannah's. It is the second-largest parish in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
My only connection to St Susannah's is a priest who was stationed there in the 1950s. Father Charles Murphy (I think that was his name) was Dad's spiritual director at the seminary in the 1940s. When Dad realized he had to leave -- my understanding is that it was a mutual decision -- Father helped him make the adjustment, and they remained in touch for years. Somewhere in an old chest I have a letter from Father, typewritten to me on parish stationary in January, 1955, when I was but a few weeks old. I wish I had it with me now, as I always found it mildly amusing.
Across time, across the years, I can sense a belonging to a chapter in another place.
Fast forward to the present. The area north of Cincinnati has grown by leaps and bounds, and the parish is now described as a "mega-church," worshipping in a huge modern building that looks like a ski lodge. Except for a large life-size crucifix in the center, it is a testimony to the iconoclasm of the times. The parishioners describe their home thus:
"It's a very caring community, very service-oriented, value-centered. We really take care of each other."
"It's just always seemed like home. No matter how big we've gotten, the culture is always the same. It's a very accepting parish."
"That's really how you shrink a big parish... through these opportunities to engage your faith and each other."
Now, this isn't about the sincerity of the priest (the only one in the article who mentions Christ), the parishioners, or anyone else. But one respondent to Rich's post says that "a friend was at this parish when fr harry was there, one of the reasons she left was he prayed to 'father/mother.'" You remember Father Harry; he's the guy who the current pastor says made the place the crackerjack success it is today. The only problem is, if addressing God as "mother" is a heresy (and in the strict sense, it is), and if I'm a Catholic who knows what he believes and isn't too sorry about it, why should that make me feel welcome?
These days I worship in a moderately sized cathedral. It is rarely more than half-full, and if either decorum or sentiment were any indication, it is a bit on the chilly side. But the people are congenial enough, and nobody makes me hold hands with anyone. They wouldn't dare. At the sign of peace, Sal and I exchange a holy kiss, roughly equivalent to how Latin Americans greet one another. (When I'm alone, my nose is in my missal.) Such was the way in the early Church, as opposed to... well, you know.
The parish in Ohio where I grew up is a bit smaller, the building quite a bit older, a homage to another time and place. For years after I left, the choir reserved a space in the tenor section for me. When some Father Feelgood type came along and got everybody holding hands at the Lord's Prayer, I felt left out -- not just because it was uncalled for in the Mass, but because I didn't need some guy from out of town telling me how to feel welcome in the place where I grew up. I could still do without it to this day. The very thing that was supposed to make me feel as if I "belonged" there, had just the opposite effect.
Now I realize nothing stays the same and times do change. I can live with all that. But if they think they have to invent a way to make me feel as if I belong, they should know of only one thing that really ties me to them in the end, and that is the Eucharist. All the gimmicks, all the handshaking and backslapping and dancing around is just needless decoration, if not distraction. One is left standing in the middle, watching the "elect" worship each other. I could get that at the local Moose lodge.
There was little that was either warm or fuzzy at Calvary. And in the early Church, those who gathered were in fear of their lives. In secret houses in the England of Elizabeth, in the misty bogs of Ireland, in the barracks of death camps in Poland and the Ukraine, in darkened apartments in China -- nothing warm or fuzzy there either.
Somewhere in the city of Mason, Ohio, in the midst of a barren sanctuary, is a clue big enough for all to see.
Is anyone looking?