Mass Report, Continued

A few weeks ago I reported on a surprise mystical mass-going experience I had recently had. I had an experience where it seemed to me the Holy Spirit was swirling around what I had previously tagged in my mental catalog of parishes as a den of heresy and post-postmodern mediocrity and spiritual dearth. The kind of place which is probably the norm these days and which the poor, longsuffering, half-assed-but-sensible Catholic with even a modicum of a formation in geometry and theology (to paraphrase Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces) suffers in order to participate in the glorious but obscured reality of Christ present there.

Having set out in a state of skepticism and doubt, I found when I arrived that the place was strangely alive to me. It wasn’t just a matter — as is so often the case — of suffering the obstacle course of readings from the less-than-wonderful NAB, a bad homily, and emasculated, watery hymns, in order to get to the glorious mystery of the Eucharist (like a drowning man grabbing hold of a life preserver, having fallen into a raw-sewage-infested sea; OK, I’m exaggerating here, but…). Something was different. The Holy Spirit, maybe, was brooding over the bent world of this little funnel-shaped parish and effecting a change. Or maybe it was the Holy Spirit smacking me — judgmental, half-assed, lazy sod of a bad Catholic — upside the head. In any case, Praise be to God.

Now three more weeks and three more Masses have transpired, and I continue the sequel of my Lenten reportage. (I haven’t gone yet today, which will be a fourth Mass, Laetare Sunday, assuming a brick doesn’t fall on my head and prevent me from going to the 5pm Chant Mass at the local Jesuit chapel, another den of heresy and idiocy being gradually reclaimed for truth and sanity.)

First Sunday of Lent: I went back to my supposed home parish. I’ve no recollection of the homily or the readings, but one thing the priest did tickled the funny-bone of my faith. At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest recites the doxology — “Through Him, with Him, and in Him, etc.” — and the congregation replies: “Amen.” This is sometimes referred to as “the great Amen” but, this Sunday, ours was mumbled out in a fashion that was far from anything that could be called great (and, really, can you blame us?). The priest immediately fired back: “What?!” Wherein we gave it another shot. “Amen!” A little better.

Following the Mass, I shook hands with the priest and told him about my wife being laid up in the hospital with pregnancy complications. He recoiled a bit, as if he didn’t really want to know. And I thought back to when, about a year ago, she’d had a miscarriage, and I had told this same priest about it right at this same spot in front of the church after Mass one Sunday and he replied, “That’s private.” To give him credit, he did offer to pray for her. This time, he asked if there was anything he could do, I said, “Well, if you’re making the rounds at the hospital, you could drop in on her.” He had me write down her room number, which I did, and he said he would drop by on Tuesday. But he never showed. I can chalk this all up to human frailty. I’m not holding it against Fr. B_______ personally, but … well, yes, it contributes to my overall disappointment with the majority of Catholic clergy I’ve encountered in my 12 years as a Catholic. If I were a better Catholic I’d be praying constantly for an increase in the vitality and faith of these hard-pressed foot soldiers for the Lord, which I sometimes do, but more often I just look on with a feeling of bafflement and befuddlement. What went wrong? Let me reiterate, I’m not asking for something extraordinary of the priests in my life. But if they were plugged into the sacraments and the tradition (and isn’t it reasonable to expect them to be) then the extraordinary divine life will shine through their ordinariness. Maybe I’m deaf, dumb and blind, but I rarely see it. So, what went wrong?

Second Sunday of Lent: I returned to the funnel-shaped parish of my previous report, near the hospital where my pregnant wife lies bedridden. This time a different priest was there. The slightly twitchy priest (with the divine light shining through) was replaced by a short, stalky, old guy who reminded me of Andy Rooney. Fr. Rooney preached the homily in what struck me as a 1950s style of shallow smugness (Lord, forgive my uncharitableness, but that was my impression). The subject of his homily was the problem of “mountaintop experiences” and the need to come down from the mountain. A good third of the homily was taken up with a reading of “one of my favorite poems” which was supposed to illustrate a mountaintop experience. The poem was long, but here’s a sample:

The weed before me was dying or dead.
Not vibrant of colors, orange, yellow or red.
But I knew I must take it, or he might never leave.
So I reached for the flower, and replied, “Just what I need.”

But instead of him placing the flower in my hand,
He held it midair without reason or plan.
It was then that I noticed for the very first time
That weed-toting boy could not see: he was blind.

I heard my voice quiver, tears shone like the sun
As I thanked him for picking the very best one.
“You’re welcome,” he smiled, and then ran off to play,
Unaware of the impact he’d had on my day.

You can find the entire thing online, here. I (again uncharitably, but I can’t help it, Lord, have mercy!) reflected that maybe we should distinguish between a mountaintop experience and a Hallmark experience. When he lifted the Host and said, “through him, with him …” I sighed out in relief my perplexed Amen. Hallelujah, we made it.

Third Sunday of Lent: Abandoned the bedridden wife and traveled south with my daughter to visit the grandparents for the weekend. The priest at the Mass I attended this time was about 150 years old and reminded me of Darth Vader’s boss in The Empire Strikes Back. One foot in the grave. I seriously wondered if he was going to make it through the Mass. Nearly blind, he had memorized the gospel reading and gave it his own spin. In the parable of the fig tree, the tender of the tree proposed to the owner that he should “fiddle with it” for another season before giving up on it. I liked that. (“Holy Spirit, please fiddle with me until I’m right. Amen.”) The homily meandered around — landing briefly on the subject of how kids today are too readily diagnosed with ADHD, when what is really needed is a good rap on the knuckles like he used to get from the nuns when he was a kid — but returning periodically to the theme of how we need to pay attention to how we are eating and the importance of families dining together. I listened in rapt fascination, glancing up at the massive and quite striking crucifix and the wooden beams above my head and wondering.


  1. Rufus McCain says

    I realize parts of this sound a bit like, “He sucks majorly at writing.”

  2. Rufus McCain says

    I meant Mickey Rooney, not Andy. Sorry Andy.

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