I’m blessed to still be a member of the very parish in which I was baptized as an infant. Most of the past nearly 50 years of Sundays have found me sitting (standing and kneeling) in a pew at Immaculate Conception Church. And like most Catholics, I’m usually in the same pew–or as close to the same pew as I can get.
Our church is an old one and when I was a little girl there were still some names written on the pew cards–names of folks already long gone by then. We most often sat in the former pew of Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. O’Brien. It was about two-thirds of the way back on the left side of the main aisle.
Today I still sit on the left side of the main aisle. When some crowded event like First Communion or Christmas forces me over to the right side, everything looks new and strange and uncomfortable. Even the people sitting around me aren’t the people I’m used to! But I no longer sit two-thirds of the way back. Instead, my family and I for years now have occupied the second or third pew when available.
You know why? Coats.
When I think back to the Sundays of my childhood, I don’t remember anything much about what was going on up on the altar. It was too far away and my view was blocked by a bunch of grownups. All I could see was the back of their coats, which no one took off during Mass during winter because the radiators we had then didn’t do the best job of keeping the church warm. Sometimes (with permission) I would stand on the kneeler to try to get a better view, but mostly I looked at the people in the nearby pews and waited for Mass to end.
The Masses I do remember quite well were at Saint Joseph School, and I don’t think it’s just because we went daily. No, I think it’s because we First Graders got to sit in the very first row, where we could hear and see everything Father Henkel was doing. I can still recall his exact intonations, and I remember clearly the way he tidied up the altar after Communion. I could see, and so I paid attention.
Nervous about public breastfeeding and a baby who might disturb people with her cries, John and I sat closer to the back on the side aisle when we were new parents. Early on, though, having read that kids would behave better if they could see what was going on, we made the move the the front and that’s all my kids have ever known.
This Passion Sunday, we arrived on the hilltop right at 11:30 to see crowds milling about on the sidewalk where no crowd should still have been at that time. Then I recognized the Bishop in the crowd and realized Confirmation was being celebrated. The candidates would be in our favorite pew, and their parents and other relatives would have come early to grab the other choice seats.
Sure enough, we ended up (on the left side, thankfully!) in one of the very last pews.
It was a strange experience. We couldn’t hear the Bishop (who is rather soft-spoken). Lorelei couldn’t see at all. William, at 6’2″, fared better, but still opined, “That was dreadful!” Both he and Lorelei said later that they couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to sit back there on purpose.
As for me, I spent most of the time watching the cute little kids around me, because apparently their parents keep them near the back in order to be able to escape with them quickly should they make noise. And likely because they cannot see anything and are bored and tired, they do make noise.
Sitting so far back, I didn’t feel like a full participant in the Mass. I felt like a spectator. “It was like being at a concert,” I said later. You know the kind–where the performer on stage could almost be anyone if there were no Jumbotron to display closeups.
Funnily enough, because it doesn’t happen often, I had tickets to an actual concert the following week. Kenny Rogers is on his farewell tour, and my sister Betsy had given tickets to my mother, Anne, and I for Christmas so we could all experience The Gambler’s Last Deal together.
It was an incredible evening. Not only were we treated to a behind-the-scenes chat with Kenny’s tour manager (Gene Roy, who’s been with him for 38 years), we got to go up on stage and get our pictures taken in Kenny’s chair, and then later we each exchanged a few words with Kenny before posing for commemorative photos with him.
And perhaps best of all, we were seated right in front of the stage for the performance. It was intimate. It was personal. When Kenny wanted to make eye contact with his audience, he was looking right at us. It wasn’t like being at a concert; it was almost like having a conversation.
We were sitting in the third row.
My sister paid extra for those up-close-and-personal seats. But you know what? The front pews are free on Sunday. They are free of charge, and most likely they are free of occupants.
Maybe sitting way in the back of church is your thing. Maybe you feel connected and can participate and pray just fine back there. I’m not here to tell you what to do.
But if you have little kids, I will GUARANTEE you that they don’t feel like a part of things when all they can see is the backs of grownups and while they are distracted by all the other kids in the last few pews doing what kids do when they are bored.
If you want your kids to be spectators at church, longing for Mass to be over so they can get their doughnuts, then stay in the back row. If you want them to be engaged in a relationship, come on down to the front.
Twelve years ago, dismayed at all the misunderstandings and hatefulness I was seeing among Catholics over the Presidential election, I decided to write a column about it for the East Tennessee Catholic. I thought I could dispel those misunderstandings and the hatefulness would cease.
Boy, was I wrong, wrong, wrong.
I was on bed rest (Lorelei was born just after Election Day) when the reactions to that well-intentioned column started coming in, but if I hadn’t been I might have taken to my bed anyway. And if I had seen where we we’d find ourselves twelve years down the road, I might have never gotten up again.
Already today I’ve received tweets hashtagged hypocrite, babykiller, and cafeteriaCatholic. It’s just another day in an election season during which I’ve been unfriended by an actual family member, deemed excommunicated by the friend of a friend, and attacked in a public Facebook post by someone I thought was a friend, all because I shared political articles that they didn’t agree with.
Rarely do I say anything about what my friends post on their own Facebook walls–with the rare exception being to offer a Snopes link to correct a blatant untruth. I have never unfriended someone because I disagreed with their views. I welcome respectful discussion and try to learn from others and to at least understand why they believe what they do.
I’m a bad Catholic, of course. I fall short on an hourly basis. But I’m NOT a cafeteria Catholic. Ask anyone who knows me and pore over every word I’ve written and try to find an example of any time I have EVER dissented from Church teaching. You’ll need more than good luck and a magnifying glass because you won’t find anything.
The friend who attacked me on Facebook accused me of being a “Democrat down to my toes.” I’ll write more about party affiliation another time, perhaps, but what I am down to my toes is CATHOLIC. That’s my core, that’s my worldview, and EVERYTHING I believe and the way I try to live my life–including my political life–springs from that.
Dear Mom in the Pew in Front of Me, the One with the Rowdy Kids:
No, I am not going to write about how much your kids disturb me during Mass. I’m not going to suggest that you take them to the nursery (we don’t have one anyway!) or sit with them in the cry room or tag-team with your husband so that you don’t have to bring them at all. I’m not going to criticize your parenting or tell you to feed that baby with a bottle when you are at church. And I’m not thinking those things either. Nor are most of the parents in this congregation.
It doesn’t bother me when your kids make noise. They are just kids and an hour is a long time to be quiet and sit still. When your three-year-old escapes you and runs up onto the altar, I’m just glad it’s not MY kid–because it just as well could have been.
What I want to tell you is Thank You. Thank you for bringing your kids to church–both for them and for the rest of us. Thank you for being open to having a large family. Thank you for nursing that baby when she needs to be nursed; and you really don’t need to worry so much about that blanket–if I am staring, it’s only because of fond memories, not judgment.
If kids are not welcome in a Catholic church, there is something wrong with that church. Jesus loves the little children. That’s not just a song; it’s in the Bible too–and if you look up, right over your head, you’ll see that scene in a picture on the ceiling. “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not.” That’s what He said, and what all of us should be saying. So thank you you for your little visual reminders, these “least of these” that Jesus wants us to love as He did.
If during Easter Mass some cranky submarine Catholic turns around and tells you that your babbling toddler is “ruining it for everyone else,” (and yes, this once happened to me) I want you to know that if he thinks that he doesn’t know what “it” is and he is the one who is ruining things. I’d rather be like the woman who after a Mass during which my children were even rowdier than usual turned around and patted my arm and said, “It gets better.”
Because 18 years ago–yesterday–I was sitting in that pew with three rowdy children aged four and under (actually not in THAT pew–you are already smarter than I am by choosing to sit up front where the kids can see instead of in the back so that you can make a quicker getaway!). I have been here almost every Sunday for over 22 years, and for years on end I couldn’t listen to the homily, couldn’t even pray. This six foot muscly fellow next to me, the one who read the first reading today–he was the babbling toddler who was ruining things for everyone else. These two younger ones weren’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and now the youngest will make her First Communion next week. They sit quietly. They make the responses. Some of them even sing. And I listen and pray. It goes so fast. You think people are just making conversation when they say that until IT GOES SO FAST.
So ten years from now–tomorrow–there will be big quiet kids in your pew and you will be able to pray again. No one will be staring at you except to admire your lovely family. You will be the one smiling indulgently at the cute toddler playing peek-a-boo with you over the back of the pew.
Until then, remember, you are doing a wonderful job.
So yesterday I posted a picture of the slate I got from my church roof, and my sister thought she saw a face in it. Please don’t think I’m attributing miraculous intervention into this and I’m not going to offer my slate for sale on ebay, but I still think it’s a pretty cool coincidence. (Okay, my agnostic friend says that we are hardwired to see faces and that it’s just an optical illusion. But I think it’s pretty nifty all the same!)
But some people couldn’t see it. So let’s see if this helps:
Of course, the thing about God is, we don’t have to see Him to know that He is there–in our church buildings, in His beautiful creation, in each other. 🙂
“Faith is constant assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about things we do not see.”
Can you guess what this is? If you were at Immaculate Conception Church this morning you probably can, but I’m guessing everyone else is going to be puzzled.
It’s slate. A slate roof tile from the church, as a matter of fact. With a new roof being installed, some bright person thought that parishioners might be willing to donate to the roof fund in return for this little piece of history. My husband said that the minute he saw these sitting in the corner of the basement, where the fall craft fair was in full swing, he KNEW I was going to be thrilled.
And I was. I did make some other purchases but nothing could have delighted me more.
Just think–this tile was placed on the roof in 1886. Someone nailed it up there, and that someone is long dead. About seven generations have worshiped beneath it. Just think of the way the world was then and the way it is now, all the changes that have happened, while that tile stayed up there doing its job. If only it could talk.
It was pretty dirty, that’s for sure. I scrubbed it and put it through a cycle in the dishwasher, and now it’s all sparkly. It came with a cardboard print out of some of its history. I’m thinking I will mount that on the bottom of it and maybe put one of my best photos of the church on it, and turn it into art.
I wonder, when they put a new roof on the church in 2126, will there be parishioners who will cherish the ancient pieces of slate from 2012 and wonder about the people who worshiped beneath them?
UPDATE: Does anyone else see a face on the slate? My sister spotted it earlier. Pretty cool, huh?
Second grade is a big year for Catholic children. Lorelei and her classmates will prepare all year for First Communion, and this Saturday they will participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. Lorelei has said the Act of Contrition about 10,000 times in the past month, making sure she has it memorized.
Each child had to do a project on the Commandment of their choice in preparation for this Saturday. Lorelei chose the the third commandment, which was simplified as “I will keep Sunday holy.” Here is a picture of the poster she and I made:
I had a whole gallery of images of our parish church (Immaculate Conception) because every Sunday I check in on Foursquare and take a new picture. Our church was built over 120 years ago and is getting its first new roof right now (yes, slate really does last almost forever!). It stands on Summit Hill in downtown Knoxville and before the tall buildings went up could be seen from all over downtown. If you ever drive through Knoxville on the interstate you will get a great view of it!
My family has a long history with this church–my mother was a parishioner from her early childhood and attended the parish school. My parents were married there and I was baptized there. Other than my own house, there is nowhere else I feel so at home.
I thought I would share a few of my favorite pictures that I discovered when Lorelei and I were choosing the ones to use for the poster.
An instinctive taste teaches men to build their churches with spire steeples which point as with a silent finger to the sky and stars.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Today is Holy Thursday, the day of Holy Week on which we remember that Last Supper Jesus shared with his Apostles, the birthday, as it were, of the Mass itself. We’ll hear the story tonight at church, and some of us will have our feet washed in commemoration of Jesus’ actions that night. At the end of Mass, the altar will be stripped and we will follow the Blessed Sacrament to the Chapel of Reservation. Tomorrow, Good Friday, is the one day of the whole year on which no Mass will be celebrated.
So it seems like a good time to address the question with which I entitled this post: What is the Mass for?
Except I’m not going to, because if you really want to know you can go read the Catechism (it’s online and searchable right here, folks) or you can look at this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia (if you are feeling really scholarly). Because this post is not meant to be educational; it’s just a mini-rant.
I know exactly zero about how this week’s celebration will be affected by use of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. And I’m not worrying either, because the whole thing has turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, if you ask me. Sure I’m still smacking myself about half the time for saying, “And also with you,” instead of “And with your Spirit,” but big deal, you know? Yes, I still have to look at the pew card to say the Nicene Creed, but that does have the effect of making me PAY ATTENTION to what I am actually saying instead of just chanting along like a parrot.
What inspired this particular rant? Oh, you know me, it doesn’t take much. Seriously, though, I am so tired of people whining about this. Get over it already. The comment that got me going this time was a Facebook commenter complaining about the changes because, “The Mass is for us.”
Without denying at all that I suspect we are supposed to derive some benefit to our immortal souls at the very least from participating in the Mass, I object to that simplistic and self-centered comment. Disclaimer: I’m not a theologian, and I’m not doing any research today because I’m already overdue to start work. But given that Catholics are OBLIGED to attend Mass, obviously it’s not just “for us,” is it? The reforms of Vatican II made it more accessible and participatory for the faithful, but the Mass was still the Mass when it was all in Latin and partly whispered at the altar while the faithful sat quietly in the pews and prayed.
For crying out loud, God made the whole world. He sustains it–and us–in existence every second by the force of His will. He sent His Son to DIE for us! Like I tell my kids when they complain about going to church, is it too much to ask that we devote ONE HOUR each week to praising Him?
If the new translation is a source of such suffering to you, I’ve got a good Catholic suggestion for you: Offer it up.
I think the Internet’s pretty awesome, really I do. It’s great to be able to settle dinnertime arguments and answer children’s millions of questions with a click of an iPhone button. It’s way convenient not have to travel down to the library to check out a book or look in the encyclopedia when I want to learn something new. And it’s great to be able to go into greater depth on the issues I care about without having to rely on only the nightly news or the daily paper.
Do you sense a “but” coming? You are right, and it’s a big one.
BUT a lot of what you read on the Internet is–NEWS FLASH–not true. Or it’s incomplete. Or slanted. Or out of context.
My freshman year at Georgetown my history professor introduced us to an idea I had never considered before. He said that you can’t take the accuracy of historical accounts for granted. He said you have to consider who wrote the account and when, and what personal or cultural biases might have influenced what he chose to include, what he left out, what conclusions he drew. For our final paper, we had to pick a controversial historical figure and read several sources for information, picking from different eras. We were to discuss why each authority presented what he did, and then reach our own conclusion about our subject.
I had grown up thinking–most of us did, I imagine–that if I read or watched the news each day I pretty much knew what was going on in the world. If Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings said it, you felt like you could trust them. Remember little Virginia O’Hanlon, who asked the editor of The New York Sun about the existence of Santa Claus, because her papa told her: “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so”?
Distrust of the mainstream media started before the Internet, of course, but has accelerated since. Now everyone can be an expert, and no one has to give up any cherished opinion because, after all, one can fine website after website to support any position or point of view. Far from educating us, it’s actually entrenching us further in willful ignorance.
I am that obnoxious person who will actually write you back to refute the email you just sent me saying that President Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer or that President Bush has the lowest I.Q. of any president in the last 50 years. I’ll send you the link from snopes.com to prove it. I’ll post it in the comments if you put it on Facebook and I might just blog about it too. That’s because truth is important and in the days of instant information overload, it’s in short supply.
Essentially, most of us are intellectually lazy. And also we are accustomed to thinking that if we read a published account, especially if it’s on a mainstream website like AOL, it’s true. Few of us realize how the very issues of importance are decided upon for us by the media. We read what they want us to read, how they want to present it, and they are no longer driven by a quest for truth but rather by a quest for page views. Any time I read something that is stirring up a lot of comments and controversy, I am immediately suspicious of it and start to delve further.
A good example is a story that made the rounds a few months ago that Pope Benedict said that “Gay marriage is a threat to humanity’s future.” Long story short, that’s not what he said. Creative reuse of one or two comments he made in a long speech created the impression that not only did he say that, but it was all he said or cared about. But even in these deceptive stores, they include hyperlinks that can lead to the truth if you try hard enough. Eventually I was able to find out when and to whom the remarks were made, and then I went to the Vatican website and read the whole speech myself. That way I did not have to rely on AOL to tell me what to think. I could think for myself.
(Side note to my Catholic readers: Do I seriously need to tell you that Huffpost News isn’t the best source for the facts about Catholicism? Might I suggest the USCCB website, or the Catechism, or the Vatican website, or at the very least that you read the original source material for yourself before allowing your view of your own faith to be influenced by the media, which is at best ignorant and at worst hostile about religion?)
Same thing with the recent talk about how 98% of Catholic women use birth control. That figure comes from a study, supposedly. Much back-clicking finally yielded that study itself, so that I could see that the much-bandied statistic is inaccurate.
Or there was the whole Kirk Cameron-is-a-bigot “scandal,” which looks a bit different if you actually watch the interview in which his remarks were made or read the entire transcript, as I took the time to do.
Or there’s the perception that people with children need to keep them under perpetual lockdown because of all those people stealing kids out there? (As I told my mother yesterday, “If it happened all the time it wouldn’t be news.”)
Or there’s the email I received yesterday containing allegations that President Obama is a Muslim, or a Marxist, or both.
I cannot say this often enough: consider your source. Consider your source. CONSIDER YOUR SOURCE! What bias does it have? Can it speak authoritatively to the topic? What advantage does it gain by portraying the “facts” in a certain light? Wherever possible, read the speech yourself (the whole speech). Watch the video yourself (the whole thing). Check a reputable, fact-checking site. The Internet helps lies to spread like wildfire, but don’t forget that it also provides the tools you need to refute them.
There are always going to be stories that cannot be confirmed this way–ones in which, for example, eyewitnesses give conflicting accounts. Or maybe you don’t have time to read the entire Affordable Care Act (although I am seriously considering making the attempt). In such cases you should read several sources. Factcheck.org is a good choice if you want to avoid bias. I find it helpful to read sources with opposing viewpoints so I see both sides of the story before forming an opinion.
Does this sound exhausting? Sometimes it is. Sometimes I see an inaccuracy or misrepresentation on Facebook that I know is going to take more than a quick trip to Snopes to investigate but I still do it. You can make it easier for me and other truth-seekers if you do the same, BEFORE you post that interesting article that supports what you were thinking already. You can check Snopes, or look at Factcheck.org. You can take a few minutes to click back to that article’s original source and read it and THINK FOR YOURSELF. And if you are too intellectually lazy to do those things, you can choose not to forward or repost.
Someday I’ll write a post about lies, damned lies, and statistics so you will know that the “98% of Catholic women use artificial birth control” you’ve seen bandied about as though it were gospel is a distorted statistic turned damned lie. I’ve already written one in which I touched on how it doesn’t matter if every self-identified Catholic on the planet uses birth control; the Church isn’t a democracy–it’s here to proclaim the truth, not to succumb to the culture.
However, it is sad but true that most Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on this issue. And while I’m in no position to know the hearts of every contracepting Catholic out there, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of painful soul-searching and conscience-forming going on. And the failure of the majority of even weekly mass-goers to adhere to this teaching cannot be solely blamed on them. True, we are all products of a culture that puts things before people and gives us all kinds of messages about why small families are desirable and that artificial contraception is the way to achieve that. But our Church has a much more compelling message, full of truth and wisdom and beauty, and it’s not being heard. Why?
It’s not being HEARD, because it’s not being spoken. By the Vatican, yes. In the teachings, yes. By teachers and parents and priests, from whom the majority of Catholics receive their catechesis? Not so much.
Speaking for myself, I remember knowing, without knowing HOW I knew this, that the Church believed birth control was wrong. I also recall having the definite impression that this was some old-fashioned idea we were all free to ignore. Everyone used birth control, right? In high school we watched some squicky movie about Natural Family Planning but all that cervical mucus talk was a big turn-off. No one ever told me, NOT ONCE, why birth control was wrong.
What changed my mind? I took a Christian Marriage class in college. I read Humanae Vitae. I squirmed uncomfortably as I read it, realizing that it made a lot of sense, that a Church with 2,000 years of Tradition and brilliant theologians and the Holy Spirit to back it all up probably was more trustworthy than the current culture I’d been raised in. I could feel my conscience pricking me as I properly informed it. But it wasn’t all negative–not at all! The teaching was beautiful! The Church’s vision of marriage and family–we read Familiaris Consortio as well–was so elevated compared to the world’s! As I read, I was thinking, “Why did no one ever tell me this? Why doesn’t everyone know this?”
I was already engaged–to a Protestant (at that time) who did not want children right away and did not (then) buy into all these “new” ideas I was sharing. Fortunately, my Christan Marriage class also required that we read The Art of Natural Family Planning. I was ready to read it then and I was sold. I was able to convince my husband-to-be based on the science behind the method. Not that our path to conforming to this teaching was smooth and easy–following your conscience can be hard.
What’s wrong with this picture? I went to Catholic schools for 12 years. I attended Mass every Sunday and lots of other days besides. But I had to be a Senior in college taking a non-required class to hear this message.
My Catholic-school educated kids have heard a lot more. They’ve gotten an earful from me, of course, but they’ve also heard at least some of this in their religion classes in high school. I’m sorry to say though that if what they tell me is true, Catholic moral instruction should be starting a lot earlier. And what about kids who get one hour of CCD a week?
I’m sure they go over all this in Engaged Encounters, but let’s get real. Most of those couples are sexually active and contracepting already.
I have never, ever heard a priest address this from the pulpit. NEVER. I’ve heard there are some that do, but it’s rare. Why? For starters, a lot of them don’t buy into it themselves. Or they feel that as celibates they cannot speak to this with authority. My husband and I once went to discuss a disagreement we were having over family planning–not HOW but WHEN–with one of our priests. Almost the first words out of his mouth were, “You know you can follow your conscience in family planning matters.”
Finally, does anyone want to tell all the people at Mass that somewhere around 85% of the sexually active ones need to confess their contraceptive use and change their ways before they approach the altar for Communion? Of course they don’t.
But they need to. If the recent brouhaha over insurance coverage for contraceptives has shown us anything, it’s demonstrated that even Catholics who dissent from these teachings respect the Church for holding fast to them even in opposition to most of their faithful. Maybe, just maybe, if the Church would be as brave about proclaiming the teaching to its flock as it has been about defending it from the wider culture, more people might take it seriously!
I would never argue against the primacy of conscience. But if you haven’t prayerfully studied Humane Vitae, the Catechism, and other Church teachings on these issues, your dissent is based on ignorance, not conscience. If you would never, ever eat meat on Friday during Lent, but you swallow a birth control pill every day without thinking twice about it, maybe you should.
My husband was the second reader at Mass today. Of course I always expect to find meaning in the readings or the homily, but hearing John read the following this morning hit eerily close to home:
Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.
My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
Was it no more than a coincidence that this would be today’s reading and that John would be the one to read it, almost exactly one month after our house burned down? I don’t think so.