The Parable of the Order Muppet and the Turquoise Hightops

Max Lindenman shared a great piece yesterday categorizing everyone as either an Order Muppet or a Chaos Muppet. Today my Order Muppet manifested itself in a big and ugly way, leading to a reenactment of the parable we used to know as The Pharisee and the Publican. (The first time I heard this story, in second grade, I ran home to my Democrat family wailing at the notion that Jesus preferred Republicans.)

This video, God in the Streets of New York (h/t to Deacon Greg Kandra), is the kind of thing I wanted, this morning, for Corpus Christi: Incense. Ceremony. The Blessed Sacrament held aloft in procession, weaving blessing through a weary world. I wanted to be that old man, leaning out the window and blowing kisses to Jesus.

Yes, it’s retro of me. Trad. Neanderthalish in its pining for the fleshpots of pre-Vatican-II. I’m astounded myself, but the heart has its reasons.

That was what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d be getting at my distinctly Vatican-II parish. The recently ordained associate, brave (or stubborn) enough to wear the cassock, has managed to get more time on the schedule for Adoration, even if it is in the brightly lit side chapel that feels more like a locker room than an oratory. But a Corpus Christi procession would never fly, and he wasn’t up at the 10:45 Mass anyway. Instead, a Franciscan priest, a son of the parish, was back to celebrate his 25th anniversary of ordination.

No procession, no Tantum ergo, no Adoro te devote, no Panis angelicus—that was a given. But I expected at least a couple of reminders of the mystery we were celebrating, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. And when what I got instead was a mishmash of the same old DavidMartyMichael HaasHaugenJoncas 100%-Jesus-free songs about us—we gather, we break bread, we share wine, we used to be afraid but now we aren’t, we are the world, aren’t we just the best?—I got cranky. Really cranky.

I started noticing all the things that were getting between me and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Father’s dramatic liturgical intonation, complete with ad libs intended to remind us how terrific we are. His provincial’s homily, which gave short shrift to the readings and praised the jubilarian with the fulsomeness of an emcee introducing a dinner speaker. The young teen altar server who’d obviously arrived too late to find an ankle-length robe that fit and so moved through the liturgy in what looked like a white mini-shroud over short shorts and a pair of neon turquoise hightop sneakers. The other teen girls who didn’t have the benefit of mini-shrouds to cover their short short shorts and camisole tops with bra straps protruding. Worst of all, the woman among Father’s visiting family who had appointed herself court photographer, and documented every moment of the liturgy by snapping and flashing a camera with a foot-long zoom lens.

I know exactly how this sounds, and I hate myself for it. But I was thisclose to walking out, stopping by the house for the black lace mantilla I didn’t need in Rome, and seeing whether I could sneak past the radar to get into the EF Latin Mass north of town. That’s how bad I’m getting.

I started to come to my senses just before Communion, recognizing that it was my own orneriness, not anybody else’s turquoise hightops, that was keeping me from the Body of Christ. Responding to the invitation to Communion, I muttered, “. . . speak lots of words, Lord, because my soul needs powerful healing.”

And He did. Back in my seat, I started seeing everything and everyone differently. The smiling father carrying the tiniest newborn like a football in the crook of his arm. The love in the eyes of Father’s family members and friends and Franciscan colleagues, gathered to celebrate 25 years of service. The altar server trying hard to tuck her neon shoes and soccer-dinged calves under the chair. The knobby white knees of an elderly man in bermuda shorts, lurching crazily back and forth as he made his palsied way back from Communion. The ministers to the homebound coming forward to receive their pyxes and begin their own Corpus Christi processions, uncanopied, unaccompanied by Knights in plumed hats, into the weary world. Here I am, He said. Here We are: the Body of Christ. Corpus Christi.

Father ended Mass the same way the New York Corpus Christi video ends, with a pitch for vocations. After thanking the parish for a childhood of chasing fireflies and playing baseball, and the members of the prayer group (reunited today) who helped him hear his call to the Franciscans and to priesthood, he said, “Are you looking for a great adventure? Give religious life a try. God will always be there for you, always changing you: sometimes a still, small voice, sometimes a tornado.”

And sometimes, a pair of neon turquoise hightop sneakers, kicking you in your pharasiacal butt. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”


  • Elizabeth Scalia

    I had a very similar experience today. I was longing for just a little bit of “something old” to go along with all the “something new”. I made my peace with it in a fashion similar to yours, but all day I have felt a lingering sense of disappointment. Depressed as I am these days, over a lingering problem, I guess I just wanted some outward cue to invite me into mystery instead of feeling like I would have to search within to find it. Introspection is a good and worthy thing, but sometimes we do need some outward help, I think. I’m no RadTrad; I did not need the Procession in Full Regalia (although I would have participated had one been around) today, but if perhaps one of the songs could have reflected the day, and perhaps if the drummer could have lost his thundering bass pedal, and perhaps, just perhaps, one of the half-a-dozen applause cues at the end of mass had been, you know, for Jesus in the Eucharist, instead of “us, us, us, ain’t we great, don’t you just love us, God, because we’re so darned loveable” perhaps I would not have left mass feeling only slightly consoled and also slightly cheated. Is it so dreadfully out of line for me to wish we could, half a century post-VCII, lose the liturgical extremes and find a happy medium in our masses? Yes, community, but maybe a wee bit more reverence; yes, modern hymns but many one oldie-but-goodie; maybe once in a while let the organ blow out its pipes? I don’t mind altar servers in high tops; I don’t need a community forever on its knees, afraid to look at each other. But I really hate feeling like I’ve just left a mega-church Protestant service with a Eucharistic chaser.

    • MariaLouise

      Elizabeth, I really love your blog and many of the others on Patheos, but one thing that has consistantly concerned me is the disdain show for RadTrads on every Patheos Catholic blog I have read. Why the animosity? What have we done that’s so terrible, other than wanting Latin Mass? I don’t get it and it makes me feel that I should stop reading these blogs I so enjoy because it makes me so frustrated to see all the contempt shown for people I know to be good Catholics and good people.

      • joannemcportland

        MariaLouise, I won’t claim to speak for Elizabeth, but I hope there is not disdain in my post. There very probably is what I think of as humor, though; while I think we often take ourselves and others too seriously and a little levity is in order, it is not meant to be derisive, and I apologize if it offended. I certainly don’t see disdain for traditionalism in other Patheos Catholic bloggers, most of whom are far more traditional than I am. I do, however, often see a rigidity in declaring who is Catholic and who is not in the comment boxes, coming from all directions but with those who identify as traditional far outnumbering others when it comes to pointing an accusing finger. I am convinced—as is our Holy Father—that our Church is meant to welcome a a diversity of liturgical forms in conformity with tradition, and believe we are stronger for it. The minute we start to declare all Novus Ordo Catholics outside the pale, or vice versa, is the time we enter into schism. So please don’t leave. Stay in the conversation, please, and let’s work to be a mutual disinfectant against the poison of disdain and disunity.

  • Pingback: Corpus Christi FAIL: “I was thisclose to walking out…”

  • annebender

    Wow. A story I needed to hear today, and told extremely well. Thank you.

  • Diane K

    WOW, Joanne. Just, wow.

    Here in Detroit, there were a number of parishes with Corpus Christi processions besides my own, and the Archbishop celebrated the CC Mass at the cathedral. Since +Vigneron has come to Detroit, there has been a procession. He usually starts it and other priests/bishops take a turn.

    Every diocese should have something and run a list in the diocesan paper where people can catch one.

  • AM

    I’ve also noticed the altar servers have gotten very lazy about how they dress. When LX started 2 years ago Fr. Haft was very clear that there was a dress code (nice trousers, dress shoes) and the kids were expected to follow it. I guess that went out the window when he left. Fr. Hae. . . certainly doesn’t make an effort to interact with the kids.

  • Fr. Ed Vella, CSsR

    Thanks so much for sharing and to the Deacons Bench for sharing you with us! Your experience and how you related it has touched me. Continue to be touched by the Spirit! Happy Feast Day.

  • Maggie Goff

    Ohhhh, do you speak to me! Thank you!

  • Mary M.

    Our parish in Bucks County PA had a beautiful Corpus Christi Procession. We walked three miles. The procession began at my parish and concluded at a neighboring one. The turn out was wonderful despite the high temperatures. Most of the event was coordinated by a lay committee. Perhaps a committee can be formed in your parish to make a procession a reality next year! We started much smaller 10 years ago with benediction and a procession on our parish grounds. All you need is some people who feel as you do, with hopefully the support of your pastor, to make this a reality.

  • Friar Rick

    Thank you. Thanks on behalf of pastors everywhere trying to do our best. Thanks for noticing the living presence of Christ. Yes, we often could do things better in our parish celebrations. And we will do better. Yes, the over abundance of HaugenDass music can at times drive us crazy. But you got the point. It worked. You saw Christ living in our midst. Don’t give up on your parish. Gently, gently work with your pastor. Work together. You will be surprised.

  • R Plavo

    If we consider how Jesus acted at meals, and at the Supper, and how the Eucharist is described in Acts and Paul, it’s all about sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord, and how it will affect us, “If anyone want s to be great in the Kingdom, then let him/her act as the servant”…..nothing about objectifying the Eucharistic species; what’s important for Jesus is with whom we eat, and share and how we are transformed into the Body of Christ not only for worship, but service…..I can’t help but think that all this parading with the Eucharist is a minor distortion of its purpose, given the climate and understanding from which this ritual arose

  • annie

    Why would you stay at a parish like this when there are most likely others in your area that properly celebrate Mass.

    • joannemcportland

      Annie, it’s a great parish that most of the time meets my most-of-the-time needs. I am much more middle of the road than yesterday’s irritation would indicate. But in the long run, it really isn’t about my needs or what ticks me off. It’s about where God wants me to be, and how I am to learn to see Him in his Body, the Church, wherever I worship.

      • annie

        Correct, its not about us, its about God, but a church that doesn’t even mention the Feast of Corpus Christi is sadly lacking in Catholicity. Enjoy your (small)c-atholic church.

        I’ll remember not to link here from other sites.

        • joannemcportland

          I never said they didn’t mention the feast; I was looking for a more traditional celebration than I got, but what I got was most definitely Catholic with a capital C. I’m sorry if my bout of judgmentalism has been an occasion of scandal to you.

          • MariaLouise

            Joanne, I can see you point about being excessively judgemental and I know I have felt as you have, and tried to correct myself and see that the parish I was at was trying its best. However, I have to say that in general, I think Annie is correct in saying why not find a parish where Mass is Mass. I work at a Catholic school that is linked to the local parish, and it’s so not traditional that it’s pretty much Protestant-in-communion-with-Rome. And based on my experience, I have to say that certainly for children, being exposed to Catholicism that isn’t really Catholicism, however well intentioned, only makes children stop being Catholic. Out of the entire school (which here in the UK only takes ‘Catholic’ as in baptized and first communion-ed children), I would estimate that fewer than 3% are practicing Catholics. Even fewer than that could tell you even basic facts about what we believe (facts one would think that children who have received first communion should know). And I have no doubts whatsoever that the lukewarm, wishy-washy,non traditional, watered down Catholicsm that is preached at the local parish is a major contributor. If they actually taught what the Church teaches, it might not make practicing Catholics out of the children, but at least they might have some respect for the Church. As it stands, kids know when they’re getting a bunch of bs, and when every sermon we get is about how fantastic we all are and how sin isn’t real and how the existence of the pope is due to ‘the presence of the devil in the church’ (direct quote), its no wonder that they not only do not believe but in fact hold the Church in contempt. So I’m not sure I’d phrase things as Annie has, but I think she’s on the right track regarding going to a parish that is actually faithful to the magisterium.

          • joannemcportland

            Again, I want to say that even though my parish did not have the full-on incense-and-procession Corpus Christi liturgy I found myself wanting, it is by no means a wishy-washing, lukewarm, uncatechized community of faith—any more than a parish that has a procession is full of folks with a graduate-level understanding of Eucharistic theology. We have beautifully and reverently celebrated liturgies according to the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, tough and challenging sermons, a strong justice ministry that includes active prolife witness, and young people who know their faith with the best of them and participate willingly and with dedication in the Mass—even if a couple of them probably need to put on more clothes when they do it. Please do not judge the community of faith that has welcomed me home so warmly, and which brought me back to Adoration after a drought of nearly 50 years, by the sinful self-indulgence of my Sunday morning crankiness.

        • Deacon Greg Kandra


          Thank you for proving Joanne’s point so beautifully.

          God love ya,
          Deacon Greg

  • Manny

    What a brilliant piece. This should go into the Patheos blog Hall of Fame. Thank you.

  • Joseph

    I smile when I read how distracted people are by the “non-perfect.” It is a tribute to their search for personal perfection. Just imagine how frustrating “non-perfection” must have been for Jesus. Yet, He was merciful and forgiving all the way to the Cross. The result–Resurrection! On earth we too sometimes walk the way of our cross. It is so much easier to walk it with our eyes on Jesus.

  • Deb

    I applaud you for being honest regarding wanting to walk out of the Mass. I have come very close to doing that myself, usually because of music that is so loud and so repetitious and boring and shallow and not deserving of being played during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I stay, I offer it up and I receive my Jesus. However, there is nothing to feel guilty about when you wish that those around you would dress and act like they even believed they were in the presence of God. When you really think about it, the Creator of everything deserves better than people dressed like they were going to the beach, total disregard to how they look walking around HIS sanctuary and talking about everything except his real presence. I truly believe it offends God. I just pray some more and offer up whatever I can in reparation for those, who by their actions, appear to not care. I can’t read their hearts, only their actions and usually, their actions state, I am here out of habit or obligation and I really dont want to be== so play that funky music, white boy, and entertain me.

  • Linda Dailey

    I have just stumbled upon this post and realize that I am late to the game. One comment to you, Deacon Kandra, Elizabeth Scalia and other Catholic bloggers: after years of stirring up discontent and conflict with your posts, you all seem to have suddenly come to the awareness that you are part, if not the genesis, of this problem. I’m happy to note a more respectful tone of late on several sites of late, but I’m afraid that the damage is done. As I’ve suggested before on other sites, the Church does not benefit from hearing your every thought. Silent prayer and reflection, and simple, unseen service are the best remedies for the pride of Catholic blogging.

    • joannemcportland

      Linda, I think there’s a difference between stirring up dissension and reporting it or reflecting on how it might be overcome, and though I know there are many in the media, including the Catholic media, who are happy to do the former, I think you do good people a disservice by tarring all with the same brush. As for the value of silent prayer over blogging, many of us do both, and there are many gifts in the Church. The Holy Father himself asked that Catholics participate in the New Evangelization in many ways, specifically including blogging. If reading the opinions of others is an occasion of sin to you, though, you would be wise to give it up and spend your time praying for us.