Friday, November 29, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 6

(Continued from last week)
Here is my proposal.
St. Dymphna’s in Frostbite Falls will offer the church and the church hall absolutely free of charge to any parishioner who wants a simple exchange of wedding vows.
First let us define parishioner. In these days of cafeteria Catholicism, a parishioner in my book is someone who has a genuine pastoral relationship with their pastor, attends Mass faithfully and is registered in the parish. Canonically I must also include anyone who is baptized and has received their First Holy Communion and lives in the parish boundaries, even though I may never have met them and couldn’t pick them out a crowd of two.
Now let us define simple exchange of wedding vows.
The wedding party has a bride, a groom and two witnesses, one male and one female, no more. Parents may walk up the aisle with their daughter or accompany their son, but that’s it -- no bridesmaids, no wedding march, no little kids, no flower girl, no ring bearer. One witness can carry the rings. As for music, the parish organist can be hired, but that’s it. No soloists, even your cousin Hildegard, no musicians, no harpist, flautist or kazoo players. The groom and the male witness may not wear rented tuxedos. Just decent pants, shoes, shirt and tie with a suit jacket if desired. No ridiculous novelty bus, hummer or stretch limo. There can be a wedding mass or just the exchange of vows as is felt appropriate. The bride may wear a white dress if appropriate, with sleeves or a shawl or vest that covers the shoulders. (It has always struck me as odd when some bride dressed in reams of gleaming white mosquito netting stands there with her five children.)  There may be photos, but no professional photographer. If you are going to pay the outrageous cost of a professional photographer, it’s no longer a simple wedding. The congregation may then adjourn to the parish hall for a simple wedding breakfast immediately following the ceremony. Finger food, hors d’oeuvres, a cake and champagne or wine for the toast. No music. No beer. No booze. No DJ. No sit down feast for four hundred -- just a receiving line and a “nosh”, cake and a toast. The entire expense of the event would be the dress and the food. No place cards, no long boring videos of the bride and groom as infants, no roasts, just the sacrament.
Who would do this? It sounds depressing. It’s a lot less depressing than starting married life with a huge debt and an aching head, and possibly a fight with the new in-laws. Use the money to take a trip or buy a house or pay off your student loans. I have had weddings like this and they are actually elegant in their simplicity. The simple wedding allows a couple to prepare for a life together in a relaxed and spiritual way and when the day of their wedding arrives, they are not at the end of their wits, thinking about nothing but the screw up with the place cards and the gifts for the bridesmaids and whether they should acknowledge the groom’s father’s second and third wives thereby enraging the first wife and risking a brawl in the ladies room and the arrival of the police at the banquet hall.
I said much earlier that no one thinks weddings are important anymore except homosexuals, wedding planners and divorce lawyers. It is time for the Catholic Church to get out of the wedding business and get back into the business of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The government has never agreed with the Catholic Church on what a wedding really is. We believe in an indissoluble, covenantal sacrament that ends only with the death of one of the parties. The government wedding is a contract that ends when it is convenient to end it. Now legislators are falling all over each in the attempt to assure the electorate that they are more tolerant and nicer than their political opponents by being the first on their block to approve the redefinition of marriage and the family to include anyone you may please. 
When all states and all the legislators have approved same sex weddings, doubtless they will move on to demonstrate their open mindedness by approving multiple couples weddings, male and female harems, and then weddings with pets and perhaps with inanimate objects. What the world has decided to call a wedding, is not something of which we even approve. I have said it often enough and will say it again. Some clever Catholic lawyer should get a class action suit going to make the point that government’s involvement in weddings is a violation of the separation of church and state. If I have a wedding for which there is no wedding license, I am guilty of a FELONY!!! In effect that means I cannot bless a wedding that the state has not first approved. It will not be long before my refusal to bless a wedding of which the state approves will come with a fine and perhaps imprisonment. Now the state is content to tell me who I may not marry. In a very little while the state will insist on its right to tell whom I MUST marry.  The state and the culture have redefined marriage and thus it is not something with which I care to be involved. We must dump weddings and return to the old and tasteful wine of the exchange of marriage vows.
If you are a couple, and by this I mean an engaged couple, or even people who are living together in a civil marriage or without benefit of any marriage at all. What you may ask is the difference between a wedding and the exchange of vows? Simple. The first is a photo-event and a great pain in the neck. The second is a simple statement that, “I promise to be faithful to you for the rest of my life, and to care for you and for any children that God may give us.”  
Ladies, if the old goat with whom you are sharing your life at the moment will not vow before God and the Church in the most solemn way that he will be faithful to you for the rest of your life, I would drop him like a bad habit. Change them locks! Get a new phone number, password and E- mail address. He’s a bum and not worth your time. If Becky Sue, that hussy, gives you the business about a bargain basement wedding, or some such nonsense just tell her that she may have had a perfectly lovely wedding, but you have a husband who loves you, your children and the Lord.
Yours monotonously,
The Rev. Know-it-all
P.S. Fr. Simon of St. Lambert’s in Skokie, a loose cannon if ever there was one, and a remarkably poor theologian,  has written to tell that his experiment with changing the method of educating children for First Holy Communion has been a raging success, despite the fact that he was involved with it.  The first confession class was the best prepared he had ever met and the desire for Holy Communion was very real and he really recognized the candidates from their regular participation in Sunday Mass with their parents. Instead of a post-reconciliation party after the first confessions, there was an enrollment in the Scapular which was very moving.  The program apparently only met with a sort of mentor once a month. The rest of the time the parents were provided with teaching materials and they themselves taught the children. It worked splendidly, the parents and their children spent almost an entire year growing together in faith and love for Christ. It was amazing to watch faith become a family affair, rather than a “drop ’em off, pick ‘em up” sort of thing. The joy of the sacrament shared by parents and children alike was deeply touching. The parents really fulfilled the hope expressed at Baptism that they would be the first and best of teachers in the ways of faith. I know that the program did not succeed because of Fr. Simon. He is a fog-bound idiot. The credit must go first to the Holy Spirit, and then to Mrs. Dorothy Amorella, the mentor and Jonathan Rivera, the co-coordinator, and above all to the parents who loved their children enough to try a difficult experiment.

Kudos and Many Blessings! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 5

Here’s a plan to remedy the craziness that the sacraments have become. It’s from the Bible — you know, that big book on the coffee table. There is a passage in the New Testament that has always bothered me.  “No one puts new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new, for he says, ‘The old is pleasant. ’” (Luke 5:37-38.)
Everyone knows that Jesus is saying that innovation is good, after all isn’t he recommending new wine? Why then does he say that old wine is good, and that having drunk the old, no one wants new? It makes no sense!
(CAUTION; I am the only person I have ever heard say the following things, so I am probably wrong. Don’t say you weren’t warned!)  The phrase new wine appears only in the context of this New Testament dialogue with the Pharisees. The Bible mentions new wine in the Old Testament, but the references are pretty negative such as Hosea 4:11 “old wine and new wine take away their understanding” and Job 32:19 “Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.”
If you look up new wine on the internet, there is an unending succession of New Wine reverences: New Wine movement, New Wine church, New Wine magazine and so on. It never seems to occur to anyone that Jesus seems to say that new wine is not always the best. There is a catch.  Jesus is talking to the Pharisees who are criticizing him for eating with sinners, which by their standards would render him ritually unclean. I think He is saying that their teaching about radical ritual purity is new wine, and I don’t think he means it as a compliment. 
The Pharisees, a name that means “the Separated”, got started about a hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ. They taught that all Israelites in all places were bound by the halachic laws of ritual cleanliness which had formerly had applied only to those going up to the temple and to the priestly classes. Jesus taught that this was a departure from Israelite tradition that turned the worship of God into legalistic observance.
The old wine of the covenant of God with Abraham and Moses is better and Jesus claimed to be the fullness of that covenant. He was warning that the new wine of the Pharisees would burst the wineskin of Israel. He was absolutely correct. The rabbinic Pharisee movement which most people simply call Judaism has kept its adherents outside the mainstream of Israel and of the wider world. The Pharisees believed that was the purpose of the Law of Moses. However, most Israelites, especially in the Greek speaking Roman Empire seem to have accepted Jesus as Messiah in the first three centuries after Christ. Thus, they brought the beauty of the religion of the Israel to the whole world. Rabbinic Phariseeism is not responsible for the dispersion of the ethical and moral treasure of the faith throughout the world. The Notzrim are. (Notzrim is the ancient Hebrew/Aramaic word for the Israelite sect of the Nazarenes, also known as Christians). The Notzrim accepted gentiles into the family of Israel without the imposition of ritual purity laws.
Jesus also said that, “A disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matt 13:53)    CS Lewis says the same thing in chapter 25 of The Screwtape Letters, a delightful correspondence between two demons, a senior devil and his nephew, a junior tempter. In chapter 25 Screwtape advises Wormwood, “The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart — an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.” 
We moderns love the new, no matter how chintzy and garish it may be. Have you ever bought a product that was not marketed as new and improved? Has it ever occurred to you that if something is new, it cannot be improved? One can only improve something that is already old enough to have been a flop, and chances are the improvement will only make it worse. The phrase new and improved — which usually means “bigger box, less product” — was, as far as I can tell, coined by a fellow named Irving B. Harris around 1943. He had developed a home permanent that burned peoples’ hair, so when he figured out how to stop burning peoples’ hair with his product, he called it “new and improved”. He saved the business!  After all, who would want something that was old and unimproved, unless of course it was a good bottle of wine or the undying faithfulness of God to Israel.
Since the home perm was invented, it appears we Americans have been wild about everything new and we American Catholics we have been utterly gaga over progress for a little over forty years: new nun’s habits, new liturgy, new liturgical styles, new music, new morality, (which coincidentally seems to be the same thing the old immorality, new everything. Heaven save us from the same old boring thing. The new and improved religion seems to have the same result as the new improved breakfast cereals — bigger box, less product. New patches and a perfectly good old garment, new wine in very useful old wineskin. Kaboom! And a mess all over. Bigger programs, bigger religious bureaucracies, fewer priests, nuns, weddings, baptisms, funerals, and few believers. Time to reevaluate, I would think.
For 40 years we have tried to make the sacraments new and meaningful. I don’t think it has worked. Perhaps we can go back to a more practical and meaningful understanding of the sacraments, taking some old things out of the storehouse. For instance baptism. Now it’s a celebration of life. Maybe we could talk about the human condition and the need to wash away original sin. First Communion. Maybe we could do away with the photo-op- rite of passage-welcome to the banquet of the community of faith. Perhaps we could return to the idea of offering our lives to the Lord at the Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in return.
And weddings. (Always with the weddings. This guy is obsessed.) At the time of Christ, the cost of burial was bankrupting Israelite families. The burial garment and the cost of the coffin and tomb just kept getting higher. The poor were embarrassed by the shabbiness of their funerals and would have their faces covered because their poor diets caused their faces to discolor quickly. Eventually the great Rabban Gamaliel ordered that he be buried in a simple shroud, face covered, and thus it became the fashion to do things simply. Extravagant mourning is still forbidden to the Jews, and I have heard it said that a toast is still drunk to Gamaliel in thanksgiving. We Christians should drink a toast to Gamaliel too, for protecting Peter and John. There is a tradition that Gamaliel may actually have accepted Christ. He is regarded as a saint in the Eastern Church.  Christian or Jewish, Gamaliel is a person to whom the world owes much.
We need a new Gamaliel, someone who will make simplicity fashionable again. How wonderful it would be if the longing of those to be married, or communed, or confirmed was the sacrament, and not the photo-op. How wonderful it would be if the family of the deceased thought only of the repose of the soul of their beloved dead and not just of their grief and the humorous eulogy. Where is a Gamaliel now?
I am not fashionable by any stretch of the term, but allow me to make a suggestion regarding weddings. One of the reasons that people are not getting married in church these days is the outrageous expense and bother of the whole thing. What struggling couple can afford the $40,000 needed for the wedding? There are the headaches of planning, the expense, the decision whom to pick for the bridesmaids, whose irritating little offspring will be the flower girl, the little couple, the ring bearer and if we pick nephew A, cousin B will be horribly insulted and the bride would be embarrassed to tears if her wedding wasn’t at least at as big as Becky Sue’s, that hussy!  Wouldn’t it be nice if somehow we could remember that a wedding was first and last a sacrament established by Christ to give grace for a family life together?
Here is my proposal.
To be continued…

Friday, November 15, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 4

Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued. 
Baptisms and Funerals! Here I am really torn. On the one hand, if you say “No” to someone who wants to have a child baptized, they will probably be angry enough to never darken the door of your church again. If you say “Yes” to someone who rarely comes to church and is in no sense a member of the parish, or even a practicing Catholic, they will probably never darken the door of your church again either. That is until it’s time for the kid’s first communion. You will see them again for weddings, confirmations and other photo events.
If you say “No”, it’s goodbye. So most priests want to be pastoral and say “Okay, but you’ve got to start coming to church.” “Okay, Father we will.” And they do come: three times — 7, 13 and about 25 years after the baptism. Here is a typical phone call:
(Bridezilla) “Hello, Are you the priest?” 
(Pastor) “Yes I am.”
(B) “I want to rent your church for my wedding.”
(P) “Are you a parishioner? “  
(B) “...... (long pause)...yes I am.”
(P) “What’s your name?”
(B) “I’m Diadora Shickelgruber. Certainly you remember me, Father.” 
(P) “I can’t say that I do.”
(B) “Well I probably go to the service you don’t celebrate.” 
(P)”I say most of the Masses and am always in the vestibule after Mass. Why do you want to be married here at St. Dymphna’s? 
(B) “I went to school there and got all my sacraments there. When I was little I always dreamed of walking down that aisle on my wedding day.” 
(P) “Are you currently attending another church?”
(B) “Oh yes, Father. When we’re not at your church we go to a church closer to our house.”
(P) What is the name of the church?”
(B) “I can’t remember it right now.”
(P) “Because you live twenty miles away, don’t attend regularly, and are not registered here, I am going to need a letter of permission from the pastor of the church you normally attend.”
(B) “....long silence....How do I get that?”
(P) Introduce yourself to your pastor after Mass and he will tell you how to make an appointment.”
(B) “Oh.” Click. Phone goes dead.
They are either going to have a wedding in the park with the local shaman, or they are going to pester the nearest Catholic priest who has also never met them for a letter of permission until weakened by hunger and fatigue he gives it to them. If not they will write a long letter to the bishop pointing out that their grandfather gave a lot of money to the parish and the priest treated them terribly. Some diocesan functionary will call and Father will give in.
The bride invariably shows up dressed like a frigate in full sail at which point I am tempted to wax eloquent on the beauties of virginity symbolized by the reams of white lace and taffeta in which she is festooned, but that would just evoke another letter to the bishop about how un-pastoral I am and so I preach a few platitudes that will sound inoffensive on the video. And so the cycle starts all over again.
We will see them again a few years later when they want a baptism or something like it; or someone they love, or at least fell guilty about, needs burial. We, the clergy, refer to this sort of religion as “hatch, match and dispatch.”  However, this is becoming much less common. Very few, except homosexuals, wedding co-coordinators and divorce lawyers think that it’s important to get married anymore; and most Catholics think birth control is just fine. This abandonment of the sacramental life eases up the pressure for baptisms, weddings and, oddly enough, even for funerals.
Ever since, at the urging of Margaret Sanger (Foundress of Planned Parenthood), Drs. Pincus and Rock invented the birth control pill in the early 1950's, things have been changing. Puerto Rico was selected as a trial site in 1955. I suppose Puerto Rico was chosen because the US government was already trying to reduce the number of Puerto Ricans in the world with a string of birth control clinics on the island. Perhaps Ms. Sanger, former friend of and collaborator with Adolph Hitler, figured there were more Puerto Ricans than anyone wanted or needed. Perhaps she figured if it worked on Catholic Puerto Ricans, it would work on Catholic Mexicans, of whom Ms. Sanger also thought there were way too many, even back then.
Guess what? Puerto Ricans went for it despite their Catholicism and now most Puerto Ricans aren’t Catholic. They are an aging population that has lost much of its beautiful art and culture. Ms. Sanger couldn’t give a fig for their wonderful food, delightful music, beautiful painting and wood carving. They were the wrong color and the wrong religion as far as she was concerned, so let’s test the pill on them. Those who renounced their faith in order to have a more relaxed reproductive morality and a higher standard of living soon also renounced their culture, and eventually renounced their progeny.
Having devastated the Puerto Rican family, Planned Parenthood went on to devastate the families of the USA proper. Catholic faith had not stood in the way of modern narcissism in Puerto Rico and it would not stand in the way of the reduction of the European American population of the United States, even though the birth control pill had been designed by Sanger to get rid of all those brown and black people cluttering up our lily white shores.
How, you may ask does this take the pressure off for funerals in Catholic churches? We just had an example here at St. Dymphna’s in Frostbite Falls. An elderly woman died who had been active here as long as her health held out. After that, the family put her in a very nice home. The woman had only one daughter. The daughter didn’t seem very interested in having a large family and so there were only two resultant grandchildren. Like their mother, they had little use for grandma. I don’t think she got a lot of visits.
When I heard that she had died, I was curious that no one had requested a funeral. It turns out that she had died a while ago and no one had told us.  The daughter said that they thought it foolish to go to the bother and expense of a funeral. They cremated grandma and went their merry ways. They all had lives to live.  So it is, that there are fewer and fewer funerals because there are fewer and fewer left to grieve and even fewer to pray for the dead.
Our small families have relieved us of the economic and financial burden of former times. The one or two children we thought optimal were given everything except faith. Why should the little narcissists mourn the dead? We gave them everything but never mentioned that they in turn should be generous. The death of a grandparent is cause for rejoicing. The few descendants are freed from the guilt of never visiting Grandma and now they get all her money. Having not wasted her money on a brood of demanding little rug rats, Grandma had amassed a tidy sum, which her one or two heirs, or their lawyers will divide. Why waste any of it on a funeral that no one wants? No one but Grandma, that is.
Remember that scene in Dickens’ Christmas Carol? Having used his finances very prudently, old Scrooge is un-mourned by anyone. The ghost of Christmas future shows him his own overgrown grave. That poor dear woman I mentioned above does not even have an overgrown grave. I imagine her ashes were scattered, or maybe they are somewhere in the basement to be thrown out with the rest of her stuff.
When there are still enough people who remember religion in some form, they schedule a funeral in a church where the deceased may have more or less gone. They want the choir, the eulogy, the sermon, the wake, the grave side, the whole nine yards and a video of the proceedings... The most crazy-making thing that I get asked at funerals is about scheduling. I have actually had people request a funeral months in advance. When I looked confused and asked isn’t that a long time to wait?  They responded, “Oh no Father, she’s not dead yet, but she will be by then. We have to get everybody on the same page as to the best date of the funeral. We have to check our calendars and we won’t take her off life support until we have a tentative date picked.” I thought I was dealing with a family of vampires.
It is now very common to put grandma on ice, or if it’s going to be a really long time before the calendars open up, Grandma will be burned and there will be a “Memorial Service” whatever that may be. The modern mourners haven’t a clue what Mass is about especially if they are born in the USA. They want the whole enchilada and they darn well better get it. After all, they are paying for it! And these are people who know the value of a dollar! They certainly haven’t wasted any of it on having large families.
Of fifty Americans at many funerals, perhaps two of them will be under the age of 30. Do you really think those two remnants of once Catholic large families will bother to have funeral masses for the childless multitude around them? When I offer a funeral Mass, my grief is very real. I don’t however grieve for the departed whom I have probably never met; I grieve for a way of life, a culture and a community of faith that has died.
The Church is growing: Africa, China, the Philippines, South America, Korea and so many emerging cultures are on fire with faith. There has never been a time when so many Muslims converted to Christianity. The faith is made glorious by those made martyrs by their Muslim neighbors.
The faith is not dying, the culture is. We have chosen ourselves over the God who made us and loves us. We are now 60 years, give or take, after the invention of the little golden pill, (as the singing nun called it). We have been born into the birth-controlled, baby boomer consumerist revolution and are reaping the reward of our own narcissism: extinction.

Next week: So what do we do?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 3

Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued.
I have pontificated at great length about weddings as sacramental travesty and blasphemous abuse. Today I want to talk about weddings as performance art. This absurdity requires wedding planners ($2,000) photographers ($2,400) and videographers ($1,500). I was recently at a First Communion that meant so much to the people involved that they actually forgot to take pictures until the event was almost over. Grandma took a few photos at the end with her camera. The young man (of 7 years) beamed with happiness at receiving his First Communion. There was no bevy of frenzied adults playing at paparazzi to distract him by snapping pictures. It was a rare and wonderful experience.
I am always competing at sacraments now with the photographers. I have actually been asked to “do it over again” at First Communions and weddings because the camera jammed, or the battery died, or they didn’t like the pose. Now photographers have opened up a whole new market: funerals.  The funeral I mentioned earlier for which sake I ended up in the police station trying to keep the grieving family from being jailed was thoroughly video graphed by a rather large person invited for the purpose by the would be eulogist. I suspect that the clown who took the pulpit against my expressed prohibition was about to issue a broadside denouncing the family of the deceased. I further suspect that this masterpiece of oratory would then have been put on the web for the enjoyment of others. It was certainly intended to be used as evidence, should the need arise because, as the frustrated orator was escorted from the podium, he screamed “This is being filmed! This is being filmed!” It certainly was being filmed and when I and a few others managed to see the film, we got quite a laugh out of it, despite the sadness of the event.
Another funeral not long ago, I had to watch my step because some woman whose acquaintance I have never made, kept moving around up and down the aisles and up onto the altar with an I-pad. I think she was taking a video of the proceedings, so she kept getting in front of me. I guess I was in the way of the best view of the action.
There is a wonderful piece of wedding video on YouTube. I doubt that it was a Catholic wedding. The presiding minister has the kind of collar more favored by Lutheran or Episcopalian clergy, and it is a garden wedding, the poor fellow’s first mistake. The celebrant is bantering with the bride and groom (second mistake) when suddenly he turns to the videographer and, I assume, the photographer. The following dialogue ensues:
“Please, sirs. Leave.”
The photographer asks “Where do you want me to be?”
The celebrant says “Anywhere other than here. This is a solemn assembly, not a photography session. Please move or I will stop. I will stop this ceremony if you do not get out of the way. This is not about the photography. This is about God.” (Third mistake, it was not about God. It was about the photo shoot).
 The celebrant (priest/minister/wearer of the backwards collar/whatever) looks like the most humorless and smug Ichabod Crane-esque practitioner of the religious arts you could ever hope to meet. He comes off as the jerk. The cameraman wasn’t bothering anyone.
When I watched the clip on YouTube I didn’t even notice the cameraman. (This is all snide sarcasm on my part). Of course one doesn’t notice the cameraman. The cameraman is the dispenser of reality. We live through our lenses now. Experience and truth is dispensed in video form on our thin screen TVs, on our phone on our I-pads. Our brains have relocated to that part of the body formerly reserved for sitting. 
The new locus of our brains grows ever wider as life becomes a spectator sport. The fellow mentioned earlier whose eulogy summed up his life in two words, booze and sports did not actually play golf or football or baseball or basketball. By “being into sports” it was meant that he spent most of his free waking hours watching them on television. The life portrayed on television is much more interesting than my humdrum life. If I am lonely I can watch happy people on television enjoying friendships and laughter. There is always a rerun of Seinfeld or Friends or the Big Bang Theory to help me forget that my life is a bit dreary. And there is drama! All around me there is hunger, both spiritual and material. There is suffering and anguish, illness and death in my own neighborhood, but it is not nearly as thrilling as the drama on TV. TV somehow seems more real than the unexceptional suffering of those whom I can actually help. There is nothing I can do about the TV people expect to feel sorry for them, or feel interested in them. Perhaps you remember my telling you that, as CS Lewis says, the devil wants us to feel charitable. God wants us to be charitable. The devil has found quite an ally in the camera. When we turn a sacrament into photo event it becomes less real not more real. It is certainly not wrong to take pictures at a wedding. But to make the pictures the purpose for the wedding is wrong.
I should be more careful about bad mouthing weddings these days. No one is getting married anymore, except of course for homosexuals.  We have only a few weddings every year. All the priests I talk to report the same phenomenon. When I was a boy being intimate (a euphemism for the more sensitive reader) outside of marriage was a cause for real shame. Now it’s a cause for housewarming gifts and congratulations. There is the old adage about the foolishness of purchasing a cow, when in fact dairy products have become widely available without any cost or commitment. 
I suggest another video. (See, even I can’t get away from it.) It’s called Cohabiters Vows and is easy to find on the web. In it a minister/officiant stands before a couple seated in bed, half covered, she in a ratty robe, and he in an old white t-shirt (no nudity or indecency.) The minister stands alone. There are no witnesses or well wishers.  The minister begins by saying, “Blank look into Blank’s eyes and with all the truth you can muster up, repeat after me: I, Blank, take you Blank to be my cohabiter, to have sex with you and hold you responsible for half the bills, to love and to take advantage of you from this day forward or as long as our arrangement works out. I will be more or less faithful to you as long as my needs are met and nothing better comes along. If we should break up, it does not mean that this wasn’t special because I love you almost as much as I love myself. I commit to live with you as long as it works out, so help me...Me. In the name of Sex, Selfishness and Options. Amen.” Then the minister says “Well, Blank and Blank, let me be the first to congratulate you both. You are now officially living together. I sincerely wish you the very best and I hope that this does work out. You may now...  well, you know what to do.” And off walks the minister.
Why bother with all the legal encumbrances and expense if not for the photo event that will make all the bride’s friends drool with envy and the grooms friends look forward to a series of drunken parties at which they can exchange all the pledges of “bro-mance” such as the best man’s toast: “I like mean like I really love you man. I really mean it. Like not in a weird way or anything, but really, dude.” (Bro-mance: a new word describing a non “intimate” yet very romantic relationship between two men who never ever consider anything more, well... intimate. This relationship, not expressed intimately is expressed by the two traditional pillars of male friendship: sports and booze.)
There is simply no reason to go to all that rigmarole and not take $5,000 worth of pictures. What’s the point? Mommy and Daddy used to threaten to cut you out of the will. Now they try to be supportive, praying secretly that it breaks up before anyone gets pregnant. Not to worry. No one gets pregnant much anymore either, at least not until they have an established career that will at least pay for the day care. So what’s the point, if not pictures and a party (with more pictures)?
The sacrament is the point, the stability and safety ‘til death do us part covenant relationship that creates the environment in which a man and woman can work out their own salvation and bring children into the world in an environment that is safe and nurturing. 

(More to follow)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued…. part 2

Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued….

I am genuinely torn. I’m not kidding. I am torn between my desire to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ and a desire to protect the integrity of the faith. Perhaps a few more horror stories will illustrate my dilemma.

A while back I was offering a funeral mass, and once again there wasn’t a person in the entire crowd I had ever had the pleasure of meeting. A young woman came up to receive communion in the assembly line that marchers quickly past the celebrant now that we no longer kneel for Holy Communion. I said “Body of Christ” and gave her the consecrated Communion Host. She smiled, took it and walked away turning it over in her hand, I followed her and asked, “Pardon me but have you made your first Holy Communion?” She looked at me and in all innocence and said. “Oh, I’m Jewish!”  I said, “Perhaps you should give me that back,” referring to the Host. By that time a small crowd of young people had gathered by the coffin. I whispered “Perhaps you shouldn’t receive communion if you haven’t made your first Holy Communion. How about I give you each a blessing?” They seemed fine with it. Communion proceeded until an older fellow at the end of the communion line slapped one hand into the other and loudly said, “I’ve made my First Communion!!!”  He was quite obviously displeased. I got two letters in the following week. One reamed me out for having embarrassed the family in front of its guests; the other complimented me for having the courage to do what I did. 
Not long after that, another funeral was offered by a visiting priest who was more to that family’s taste than I was. Again Holy Communion and some black eye-lined, multi-pierced, young Goths stood in the assembly line to receive Holy Communion. They also looked at the odd little cracker they had just been given, I asked the first two if they were Catholic and had received First Holy Communion. They asked, “What’s that?” I said, “I’ll just take that from you.” So the far more tolerant celebrant and I got into a kind of rhythm. He would say, “Body of Christ,” I would say “I’ll take that.” “Body of Christ,” “I’ll take that.”  “Body of Christ” “I’ll take that.” This went on for a while and no one seems to have been aware that it was not normal procedure. 

After that I decided when I got a crowd that was clearly unaware of what Catholicism is, I would make a bit of an explanation about Holy Communion and who should receive it, namely a practicing Catholic who has received his First Holy Communion. If married, one should be in a valid sacramental marriage and believe himself to be in a state of grace.
Remember the circus Mass where the distribution of Holy Communion was highlighted by a cursing clown?  At that funeral I took one look at the crowd of people with orange and purple hair milling about and thought I should explain the meaning of Catholic Communion. Communion went quite smoothly, except of course for a music stand swinging, cursing clown and a general melee in the sanctuary. I must admit to having been a little shaken by having had to dodge flying musical apparatus and comments about my mother’s marital status during the distribution of Holy Communion.  

After the Mass, however, a woman came up to see me. I thought she was going to commiserate. It seems however that she was unfazed by the wrestling match that had just finished. She told me that she had been a Catholic all her life. This was the first time she had not gone to Communion. She wanted to express her solidarity with those oppressed people whom I had denied Holy Communion. She said that Jesus, the pope and the Cardinal, whom she new well, would never have done such a thing. She was furious that I had “bifurcated the community”.  

I was taken aback! I was not sure at first if bifurcating in public was moral or even legal. I looked at her and said “Thank you. I am so happy for you.” She said, “You didn’t understand me. I am upset by what you said.” I said, “I understand. Perhaps it’s time for you to be a little upset by something a priest says.” 

I imagine that I will be doing time in purgatory for that one, but it just sort of slipped out. I am still scratching my head that she believed I should offer Communion to someone who was casting imprecations on me and the bereaved family.  

I have had groomsmen slip the Eucharist into the pocket of a rented tux, which I retrieved; I have had to chase people down the aisle at Midnight Christmas Mass as they slipped the host into their pocket. I think that was the same midnight Mass after which I found a certain product that can be bought at truck stops for hygienic purposes only and that is now distributed cheerfully at government high-schools. All I could think as I swept the church at 2:00 a.m. was how very disappointed some young man was going to be this Christmas.  The church is crowded for grand events with people who have no idea what church is for.  The only model they have to go by is the movie theater and what they’ve seen on TV. So they think this is a performance. 

This brings me to one of my favorite topics: the eulogy. I endured a marvelous eulogy not long ago. A couple of young men got up and decided to share about Uncle Moe. They did a kind of tandem spontaneous roast. It seems that Uncle Moe could really hold his liquor and that sports was his life. We are not supposed to allow eulogies at Mass. The sacramentary allows for a few brief words of remembrance about the faith of the deceased. I suppose sports and liquor were pretty much Uncle Fred’s spiritual life. It took his nephews, Larry and Curley, twenty minutes to say it however. I wonder what Uncle Moe would have thought had he known that his long life would have been summarized in two short words: sports and booze. Rest in peace Uncle Fred, I hope Uncle Moe haunts them. 

I heard another amazing eulogy a while back. An in-law came up after Communion to act as master of ceremonies for the after Communion speakers. After some adults spoke, each grandchild was invited to come up read a goodbye letter to grandpa. “I wuv you Pop-Pop and I am so sowwy dat I will neva see you again becauze you are dead. Hugs and Kisses, Baby Snookums.” This went on for one whole hour. The après-Communion show was longer than the funeral Mass and sermon combined. A celebrant must do his best not to stare at the 20 something bleached-blond granddaughter wearing the very little black dress with the black stiletto heels as she struggles with the second reading or sings an a cappella solo of grandpa’s favorite song which is usually some show tune or a football fight song. She minces up to the sanctuary, looks at the celebrant, takes the gum out of her mouth, points to the pulpit and says “Over there?” the celebrant nods, looks away and with great embarrassment and stares at the floor.  

If one tries to limit or heaven help us, forbid the après-Communion roast/eulogy, there is hell to pay. Undertakers look distressed, people are enraged and they counter with, “Well, other churches allow it.”  There is invariably the letter to the bishop about the substandard performance of the celebrant if he has any standards at all.

One more story. There was a funeral Mass here some years back at which the family insisted that the organist play “This old man, he played one, he played nick back on my thumb...” as the final musical selection. The organist questioned the wisdom of the song, but the priest, a kind old Irishman, in the mold of Barry Fitzgerald said, “Well, if it’s the family’s wish we should probably respect that.”  The organist tried to “church up the song” with a few minor chords and baroque flourishes, but it was clearly recognizable, and the whole congregation chimed in singing what had been planned as an instrumental. As the coffin rolled down the main aisle the congregation joined in the chorus of the beloved children’s song, “This old man went rolling home!” And so he did.

This is the Roman Liturgy? I have given my life for the privilege of offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Why should I have to put up with people who confuse the whole business with a high school assembly presentation? The amazing thing about this is that I am expected to do this for people whom I have never seen before and will never see again. The reason is simple.  I have to put up with it for one reason: I must be PASTORAL. 

Heaven forefend that I should ever discourage anyone from liking the Catholic Church. Jesus never said anything unpleasant to anyone.  We put up with the debasement of things that we supposedly hold sacred on the grounds that it is pastoral, forgetting that forbidden fruit is the sweetest. We somehow think that if we are just nice enough, they will all come back to church and the church will be full and the world will become truly Christian. We are like the heart-broken boy friend who says to himself, “I know it’s 3 a.m., but if I just call her cell phone one more time, perhaps she’ll pick up and I can convince her that I really love her and she’ll come back to me and we’ll be happy forever.” 

This is what the world calls “loser.”  

Next week, On to weddings!  (Oh, no! Not again)