Liturgical abuses abound, so what to do? Go church shopping? Hang on. It’s Lent. You want penance and self denial right? You know, it might actually do you some good to attend a church where the liturgy is awful. While you may not be able to worship just as you’d like, you may learn some other lessons. You might learn that you’re not the pope for one. Second, you might acquire virtues like humility and loyalty. You also might learn to find God in what you don’t like, rather than finding him in what you do like. Better men than me have advised this: check out the quote from Tolkien that the Roving Medievalist has posted.
This is the most ironic and profound lesson to learn. If we only ever expect to find God in what we like, and what is according to our taste, then we will never be able to find him elsewhere. So, for example, if my thing is happy clappy mass with a fuzzy sermon and lots of hugs, and that’s where I find God, it might do me good to start attending the Latin Mass. Like vegetables, what you don’t like might be good for you. Similarly, if a solemn high Pontifical Mass with a choir singing Palestrina is your idea of heaven, maybe it would do you good to go to Fr. Folkmass’ latest offering. If my hunch is right, then maybe the very thing you should not do if you want to grow spiritually is attend the sort of church you like.
Going church shopping is just so Protestant, and underneath it all is the nagging conviction that, “I know what is right for me spiritually and I am going to go find it.” I don’t know about you, but the one thing I am finding as I grow older, is that the one thing I don’t know about myself is what is right for me spiritually. My biggest growth points spiritually have been when I have been introduced to something I didn’t like, and then learned one way or another how to like it, how to value it, how to find something good in it, and so how to find God in it. Conversely, when I’ve had everything my way and got ensconced in a cozy little church where all was to my taste, that’s when I was most prone to become smug, complacent and self righteous. “Oh, aren’t we good! We not only are nice people, but our liturgy is also better than anyone else’s.”
When I hear everybody moaning about this little liturgical detail that isn’t quite right, or that little liturgical nicety that isn’t done properly I can’t help thinking that I’m listening to a load of spoiled children who didn’t get the candy they wanted. What were they really looking for? Andrew speaks eloquently about this here.
Let me finish my rant with a story. A dear friend of mine called Bill and his wife Janet converted from Evangelicalism, and their parish was run by a priest I’ll call Father Pat McGee. He was a kindly old Irishman from Ohio who was fond of baseball. He had what I can only call the ‘Johnny Carson’ style of liturgy. He’d come out in his vestments and say, ‘How are you all doing this morning? Anybody been to Cincinatti recently? How are the Red Sox doing?…The Lord be with you.” Fr. Pat was casual and easy going. His worst offense was making personal comments as you’d receive the body and blood of the Lord. He once said to my friend at communion, “The body of Christ…I like your new moustache Bill.”
Janet was fed up with Fr McGee. She wanted to switch to Holy Name parish where a young conservative priest ran the show, had processions, perpetual adoration, the works. “We’re not doing that.” Bill said. “We’re Catholics now, and this is our parish. I reckon if Fr Pat puts up with us we’d better put up with him.”
So they gritted their teeth and they put up with Fr Pat. They got involved in the parish and helped Fr.Pat, and soon they realized that while Fr Pat was no liturgist, he was actually a very loving and pastoral priest. Loads of people loved Fr Pat, and he had helped many people in their faith. He wasn’t perfect, but he was real. He was human and there was no nonsense about him. Three years later Fr Pat got cancer and died. Bill and Janet cried at his funeral and were sorry to see him go.
They didn’t learn much about liturgy with Fr. Pat, but they learned what being a Catholic really means. They learned how to stick it out and not complain. They learned that church shopping is for sissies. Most of all, they learned to see everything from a different perspective. Their world widened and their hearts opened.
They learned more by putting up with what they didn’t like than going on the never ending ever grumpier quest to find the church of their choosing.
Most of all, even thought they didn’t love Fr Pat’s style of liturgy they learned to love Fr.Pat