"God has carved a place…"

One of the good things about a Catholic church is that it isn’t respectable; you can find anyone in it, from duchesses to whores, from tramps to kings.
– Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede

Over at Inside Catholic, Zoe Romanowsky links to a piece by the newly-conservative psychotherapist known as Robin of Berkeley, who has chronicled her recent experiences at a Catholic Christmas Mass.

To my amazement, the painfully shy child sitting next to me came out of her shell. She started singing her heart out. She was even praying like a pro.

Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning his presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that’s half of life.

It was a stirring night for this wandering Jew who has traveled from east to west, from Left to Right. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, “This moment in time God has carved a place for you,” and sitting in the sanctuary, I felt that place.

Even though I didn’t know the right words, or the hymns, or how to pray, it didn’t matter. All the differences among people — race, class, politics, even religion — vanished. Faith, I realized, is the ultimate uniter.

And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they will always fail. I flashed to an image of those mothers who somehow find the superhuman strength to lift up a car and free their children.

It is a lovely, often funny piece which could actually could be called the second of two parts. Robin did not go looking specifically for a Catholic church, as she recounts here:

Being a secular Jew, my first step should have been a temple. However, the synagogues around here are practically recruitment stations for Obama (aside from the Orthodox ones, but I don’t speak a word of Hebrew). So I decided to experience church on Christmas Eve.

Checking out churches online, I found almost none that offered political neutrality. Most heralded their progressive credentials, welcoming the transgendered, but not conservatives.

I was pleased to find an Episcopal church whose website focused on religion, not ObamaCare. I left a message for the priest that I was looking for a church that didn’t press a political agenda because I wasn’t a liberal.

I received an icy reply from the priest, the Reverend Lucy, who said with barely-contained disgust, “I don’t think you should check us out.”

This is, of course, the attitude that all politically-active Christians must guard against – the shutting out or discouraging of a believer (or wannabeliever) because of our passionate ideologies. When we reach that point, we really need to examine whether our ideologies have become our idols, or our patriotism is sometimes serving as a sacramental. St. Paul teaches in Colossians:

Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs.

Wisdom, made perfect, would likely include the open door, always. We all make mistakes; we all try, we fail; sometimes we really blow it and disgrace ourselves and our creed and thereby give scandal to the Body of Christ. I know more than a little about that. But we must get up and keep trying – keep trying to see each other within that Body, first and foremost – with ideologies shoved somewhere behind us. There will always be time to argue about politics and laws.

A good reminder from Robin, and something else to pray about and guard against, in the new year. Do read her posts, when you can.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • John Dynan Candon

    You cannot be hateful if you are grateful!

    Right on, Robin

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  • http://adremsv.blogspot.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    As Archbishop Sheen said…. you can know the Church is true because she is the most hated, just as Jesus was hated.

  • CV

    It’s a charming and funny story, especially the part where she was pressed into service as an “usher.”

    I’m glad Robin had a good experience at the Christmas Eve “kids” Mass, because my experience has been quite the opposite. At our parish it’s usually packed with families, kids dressed up like wise men, angels, stable animals, you-name-it. We took our kids a few times when they were small, then began avoiding that particular Mass like the plague, preferring instead either Midnight Mass or a Christmas morning liturgy. The Christmas Eve Children’s Mass is not a great opportunity for quiet prayer and reflection. But hey, one of my own New Year’s resolutions is to be less cranky and judgemental, especially about my fellow Catholic school families and parishioners :-)

    Still, when I hear a story like Robin’s, I am reminded about how much I, as a cranky cradle Catholic, take for granted about the treasures I’ve been given.

  • Beth

    I really like Robin’s honesty and humor. Those comments are eye-opening!

  • Anglican Peggy

    As an Anglican who has never been to a Catholic Mass on Christmas, I really enjoyed Robin’s fish out of water account. I could really identify because it would be almost as strange for me as it was for her even though I have been to a smattering of both Catholic Masses and Orthodox ones. I know from those experiences something of what it must have felt like for Robin. For me I always feel thrown out of my familiar rhythm. Which is both good and bad. Good for observation. Bad for worship :-)

    I was amazed that the poor woman didnt run screaming from the place. Good for her. If attending services at a Catholic church can be disconcerting for someone like me who is used to church but one that is quite different, then I commend her who had no experience to fall back on. God surely wanted her in that place and gave the strength to perservere.

    I don’t want these comments to be received as any kind of disrespect. Cradle Catholics would not naturally be aware of what makes their church different from other places of worship. A piece like Robin’s, comments like mine can paint a picture. That is the spirit of my intent anyway.

    The thing that stood out to me is how 1) There wasn’t anyone assigned to be an usher and 2) that the “woman in charge” simply assumed that Robin was Catholic and knew what to do. That incident spoke volumes to me about the differences between any given Catholic parish and my own small and hyper-organized Anglican parish.

    In the Catholic church, there is a marked lack of organization and what there is seems to be handled casually on the spot. In my church, ushers are scheduled for the whole year in advance and if someone can’t make it there is a whole system to secure a replacement.

    In a Catholic church, seeing someone new that you don’t know is common. Drop ins seem to be the norm. Membership is free flowing from one parish to the other for this or that service. It is assumed that you are a Catholic who is just passing through. In an Anglican parish, membership is very stable. All the regulars know all the other regulars and so a new face is instantly picked out from the crowd and the assumption is that they are not Anglican, which given our numbers in this country at least is practically a given. In my church, Robin would have been fussed over and her hand would have been held which may have been just as intense for her as being impressed into usher service.

    And to all this I say “Viva la difference!” Aint it grand?

  • Lisa

    I enjoyed Robin’s post very much. Anchoress, the first sentence in her second to last paragraph reminded me of your past writings concerning communism’s forced elimination of the religious (and religion).

    “And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they will always fail.”

    God blessed Robin with an epiphany! What a wonderful Christmas gift for Robin – and for us because she shared her story.

  • B. Durbin

    I think it can depend on the individual parish, actually. My current church is pretty well scheduled, as was the church I grew up in.

    The funny part is that I’ve been attending this church regularly for years now, and say hello to any number of people— and I don’t know anyone’s name! I mean, everybody knows my toddler, and the people I knew through choir know my name, but there’s a nice couple with a son about the same age as mine, and I can’t for the life of me say what their names are. (Their son is Nathan.) I know roughly where they live, that they lived in Colorado for a while, maybe even what they do… but I couldn’t introduce them.

    It’s kind of funny, actually. Oh, and everybody asks when I’ll be back in the choir even though it’s been years since I had to quit.

  • grace

    I pray we can have an end to the “Vatican II moments”.
    More True Traditional Church and no more false Modernism church.

  • http://lucemichael.wordpress.com/ luce

    My favorite part:
    “Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning his presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that’s half of life.”

    Isn’t that the truth?

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  • J

    I have not been able to go to my church for quite some time. The priest openly detests the USA, refers to our military as murderers and does not have one good thing to say about my country (or beliefs, for that matter). I tried this Christmas to go, told my husband that on this day of all days, he would not bash the USA, he would deal with the joy and wonder and love of the birth of Christ. Boy was I wrong, early in the sermon he began his attack….my son and I left. My son drove me around for a while to calm me and take my mind off what just happened. If I could not find Christ in my Church here in Canton, MA, at least He was good to me in giving me a Christian son that treated me with kindness.

  • Oranur

    Seek Christ not the Priest, but if you can find both Christ and a holy Priest the better : )

    [Christ is the High Priest. I seek them both -admin]

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