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.”