Monday, July 24, 2006

Going Home: I

John tells of a city that he saw coming down
Where no sorrow, pain or death will be known;
And some day we can go there, through His marvellous grace;
I can almost see the lights of home.

I'm preparing to drive home to Cincinnati in a few weeks. My parents haven't been doing well lately, so I figure I should put in an appearance, my first in over a year and a half. (They aren't known to surf the internet, so I can share this account with the knowledge that my arrival will be a surprise, so I'm counting on all of you...) I can still remember when I'd make the trip two or three times a year. Lately I've been spending vacations elsewhere.

There's a feeling you get when the place of your origins appears around a bend in the road. You simply assume things will be the way they were when you left. But it only takes a few things out of place from the last time, and that's when you remember that nothing else stands still any more than you do. I won't be doing a lot of visiting while I'm back; just family and that's about it. I'll make an exception for an old friend of mine who's a pastor on the East Side. I'll be there during the Feast of the Assumption (August 15), and so I'll be attending Mass. These days, that's a different experience back home than it is here.

For one thing, parishes back home tend to be less... well, conservative. The very notion of being Catholic is all tied in with every fashion associated with "the spirit of Vatican II" that has come down the pike. The Mass might well be conducted with a certain reverence, I suppose, but there's a reason I don't attend Mass at the parish where I grew up. I simply don't recognize it anymore. The pastor is the locus of a personality cult, and I tend to be wary of them. I've also mentioned before how they all hold hands across the aisle at the Our Father. Now my mother probably doesn't partake of this charade, but it's probably out of habit that they respect that of her. Would they do as much for a stranger? Last time it was attempted, I just looked at the guy and said: "Do I look like someone who does hands?" He got the message. He may have been one of the brighter ones.

The result is a Church I barely recognize as my own.

You see, I think most people aren't paying much attention. They don't follow every clip in the Catholic press about what the Pope says about this or that, and they are inclined to believe whatever their pastor or his hired lackeys will say. So if the church is decorated with murals of "modern saints" like Thomas Dooley (who was an avowed homosexual) or Cardinal Bernardin (and don't get me started on him) or Martin Luther King (who was not even Catholic, and whose personal life could not be described as one of "heroic virtue") or Gandhi (who was not even Christian), how can you pray with them? What does it mean to break the Bread of Angels with them? How can I be in communion with them when I'm not?

I've been to such parishes over the years during my visits home. Everything seems hunky-dory at the time, until Father Feelgood turns out to have a few bad habits. People are shocked. They go so far as to continue defending him, even after he's found to have betrayed them for years. The recent episode of one Father Fey in the diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, does not surprise me at all. I would expect an army of admirers among the laity to lie their way into the rectory to clear out his things, including the evidence against him. I would expect Bishop Lori to be too much of a pompous ass to keep a handle on any of this. (Yes, you can tell him I said that, and I'm not afraid to tell him what I know.) After all, in order to do so, he'd have to admit to being capable of making a mistake. Like that's ever gonna happen!

The church in Cincinnati is such a mess that the people there don't even notice. They won't notice for years. It will get worse before it gets better. I warn my priest-friend of the prospect every time I visit with him.

Fortunately, he is one of the brighter ones. He's gonna need to be.

Oh, I can almost see the lights of that city,
I can see them gathered all around the great white throne;
Through faith in my Saviour and His wonderful love,
I can almost see the lights of home.


Tony said...

For one thing, parishes back home tend to be less... well, conservative. The very notion of being Catholic is all tied in with every fashion associated with "the spirit of Vatican II" that has come down the pike.

Heh, I have to say that our parish was a victim of that particular malady about 11 years ago. You talked about a "cult of personality" centered around the pastor. That was exactly what we had there. Everyone loved the pastor because he deferred to parish council and all the assorted "church ladies" who actually ran the parish.

They did a million dollar wrecktovation on the parish, and replaced the crucifix in the sanctuary with a huge, gold, seated monstrosity which was supposed to be Jesus holding out a cup and host.

They got rid of the choir loft, and placed us (the choir) to the side of the sanctuary facing the congregation (the better to perform, I'd guess), and had a habit of sitting during the consecration (because kneelers were impractical on the raised surface).

They took the real Jesus, residing in the tabernacle, out of the sanctuary and relegated Him to a side "eucharistic chapel" which was the darkest place in the parish and was never visited except for a ceremonial walk by one of the EMEs to fetch extra hosts and deliver them to the altar.

During the fractioning rite, all the EMEs would stand in a circle in the sanctuary behind the priest, and he would distribute communion to them, and 1-2-3... all would consume them at the same time.

I counted 10 liturgical abuses and one canon law violation. The liturgy was planned by a lady who was the Liturgy Director / Music Director (LD/MD). For Holy Thursday for about 18 years, we got homemade altar bread for communion. The first year it was baked according to spec, but the liturgy committee determined that it was tasteless and decided that a little honey would help.

We also morphed in that time from a church to a "faith community".

About three years ago, we got a new pastor. The first move he made was to get the EMEs out of the sanctuary (a few families made their exodus), then he replaced the china cibora and chalices (one ciborum had been cracked down the center and repaired with super glue) with proper gold chalices and cibora which had been donated (wave goodbye to a few more families). During the wrecktovation, nobody ever considered installing a sacrarium in the sacristy for sacramentals, so our new pastor purifies each and every cup after communion.

The LD/MD took umbrage at this. It added an extra 2.5 minutes of prayer to the mass. She considered it unnecessary, so when the pastor asked her to please softly play some music during this meditation time, she refused. She let his ass hang out in the wind, figuring that if he got uncomfortable enough, he'd stop doing it.

After a year and a half of this, he chose not to renew the LD/MD's contract. He said he didn't need a "Liturgy Director", he could do that himself, thank you, but she was welcome to apply for the Music Director position. She chose not to.

When she left, those who worshipped her cult of personality left, and we lost probably 150-200 people. She had a huge music ministry with 7 choirs and about 75 children in the children's choir, about 35 in the youth choir and probably 38 in the adult choir in addition to two handbell choirs. So the vast majority of those involved in the music ministry left.

We have a new choir director, and there are about 10 of us who sing, and we have a cantor for every mass.

Our new pastor is an amazing man. When he consecrates and handles the Body and Blood fo Christ you know that he believes he is handling God and that attitude is contagious. His homilies are like a walk through the holy land with Jesus. We are beginning to bring back devotions like sunday night rosary, and this Lent, after stations of the cross, father would do benediction.

I told father to "stay the course", and when people learned about the faith filled liturgies, those who were interested in worshipping God rather than be intertained would flock to our church.

As a cantor, I am seeing new faces every week, and I'm seeing the same faces for weeks after that, so people are joining and more importantly, staying.

This is an exciting time of renewal in our church. I am blessed to be a part of it.

David L Alexander said...


This is a scenario that many good priests fear, where they are immersed in a bad situation, and feel compelled to maintain the peace, in the hopes of still having a parish when it's over. It takes a lot of nerve to risk losing the fair-weather faithful. Your admonition to "stay the course" may have been just the encouragement he needed.

What diocese is this, by the way?

Tony said...

Diocese is Syracuse. And our pastor is just the shepherd we needed.

He needs a little work in the proper way to communicate the direction we are going to us sheep. His technique when he first arrives was to whack us in the ass with the crook and when we turned around and asked which way we were going, the answer was "never mind just move!"

He is very cognizant of the need to "prune the vine" sometimes. And after two months in our parish, after his infamous "abortion homily" we lost three families.

He put it very well: "I have to do what I believe is right, because I have to answer to God".

Bob said...

I spent my teenage/formative years on the west side of Cincinnati during the 1970s and I can no reflect that this was starting to happen then. We had moved to Cincinnati after several prior moves.The Mass began to lose the mystery it used to hold when I was younger and an altar boy in a parish in Tampa. My strongest memory of this time is my mother always complaining about how bad things were at Mass. We kept changing parishes trying to find what was missing.

This was also when until a few years ago, I began simply going through the motions concerning my faith. I realized in college that I was unable to understand or explain my faith to others.

David L Alexander said...

Hey, Bob, this one's for you: