Phil 4: 4-8

Thursday, June 25, 2015

But Do Speak to One Another

My last post, “Quiet, Please,” struck a nerve among some readers.  Responses to me privately ranged from “Thanks,” to “I’ve been thinking the same thing,” to “Really? How do we engage people so they stay in the parish if we don’t talk to them?” and many others falling at various points somewhere along this continuum. For that reason, we might want to take a look at the other side of the coin, so to speak.  But first, for anyone who didn’t see the last post, the point was that if we truly understood, respect and revere the Real Presence of our Lord and Savior in the tabernacle, we wouldn’t be socializing with friends and family in the sacred space.  Socializing would be done outside the sanctuary and nave, in the gathering space or elsewhere on the church campus.

Now saying all that does not mean that we should be glum-bums and sourpusses in our personal interaction with our neighbors either.  The peace and joy of being followers of Christ, of having personal relationships with him, should be evident to others when we interact with them.  As St. Paul tells us, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17)  We need to show that peace and joy in the Holy Spirit in the way we act toward one another as we welcome them and greet them. 

“Oh yeah,” you might say—“that’s what the hospitality ministers are for.”  True, that’s part of their ministry, but it’s something we all ought to be doing to create a stronger sense of community in the Risen Christ.  Shaun McAfee, a convert to Catholicism, tells us:

“New parishioners and [visitors]…want to be acknowledged…want interaction…want to find a place to return to each week.  More importantly, they need to be inspired by the lay members of the parish to do something in the Church and be happy doing it as well.  This is contagious…The first few times I attended Mass, nobody gave me a single look or gesture or greeting until the sign of peace…” Filling Our Father’s House, Sophia Press, 2014, p. 84

What are some tangible behaviors that might illustrate McAfee’s point?  Well, at a minimum, such behaviors might involve not trying to avoid someone, but making an effort to actually greet someone. But more than that, we ought to be greeting people around us with a warm smile, a handshake, a “Good morning,” quietly spoken to let them know they are welcome and that it’s good to have them here with us. 

In other words, what are we doing to let them know that they matter and are important members of the body of Christ and our parish?  Do we run the After-Mass-Dash as soon as we leave the sanctuary, or do we take a few minutes to chat with people either in the gathering space or over coffee and donuts?  Do we search out new faces and introduce ourselves to them, striking up a brief conversation, and if we find that they are new to the parish, welcoming them and pointing them in the right direction for registering as members?  Grace McKinnon, Catholic author and speaker, relates an incident that occurred in a shopping center parking lot where she met a young lady she’d seen in church the previous Sunday.  Ms. McKinnon introduced herself and told the young woman that she hoped she’d see her at the parish bible study program.  They chatted briefly—later the young woman approached her at the parish and told Grace that, on the very day Grace greeted her and invited her to get involved, she had been contemplating suicide.  Now, years later, she is a member of a religious order.

Of course, that’s a pretty unusual situation—or is it?  Do we take the opportunity to acknowledge the folks we see around the church when we run into them out in public?  Are we open to letting the Holy Spirit use us as instruments of His will, to bring others to Him?  How is the Holy Spirit calling each one of us to assist in the work of the Kingdom of God?  Are we paying attention to His call?  Or are we self-absorbed, focusing inward instead of outward toward our brothers and sisters?

So, no, in my opinion—we shouldn’t be using the sacred space of the sanctuary where the Real Presence dwells as a social club, but yes—we should be acknowledging and getting to know one another better, encouraging participation in the parish and building a stronger sense of community.  Too paraphrase a line from Ecclesiastes 3:1, there’s a time and a place for everything.   Carrying on chit chat in the sanctuary is not okay; quiet, brief acknowledgements and greetings without interrupting others’ private prayers is simply good etiquette that sits at the threshold of lay evangelization.  Evangelization requires us to step out of ourselves, once we’ve stepped out of the sanctuary and get better acquainted with one another.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Quiet, Please

This piece has been a while in the making—Maggie and I have noticed and talked about what we, at least, perceive to be an increasing lack of respect being shown in church before Mass.  Just today a friend of mine described his displeasure with the pre-Mass hubbub recently when he was trying to engage in some quiet prayer to prepare for the liturgy.  The antics he described going on around him before Mass unfortunately are not the exception in some parishes, but have become the rule—guys catching up on sports events, ladies catching up on family events, you name it—a wide variety of kibitzing, with even louder discussions echoing into the sanctuary and nave from the narthex or gathering space outside.

As Catholics, we speak often of “The Church,” as well as of “the church,” where the Big “C” Church is the mystical Body of Christ, founded by Christ—those of us on earth, the souls in purgatory and those in heaven.  The small “c” church, the edifice, is the facility in which we pray and worship—the house of worship.  In our Catholic churches, we have located near or within the sanctuary1—the area including the altar and places for the clergy—a tabernacle which houses the Real Presence of Jesus Christ—the Holy Eucharist—His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came down from heaven to suffer the most horrific torture and ignominious death so that He might redeem us sinners; God, the utmost Perfection, Love and Infinite Good, is there with us, physically.  Those aren’t just wafers in the tabernacle—it’s Jesus, the Messiah, for crying out loud.  (For more information, take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1373 – 1381.)

Now, how would most of us likely behave in front of some high profile dignitary, such as His Holiness, Pope Francis, or some secular leader?  If they invited us in for an audience, would we be idly chatting with the people next to us about how the kids’ soccer season is going, where we got our hair done, or what’s for dinner?  For most of us the answer would be a resounding “No!”  It’s not polite, and it doesn’t accord them the dignity and respect owed to them.  In a word, it’s boorish, at best, if not just plain insulting.  So why does it often feel like we’re seated at Sports Authority Stadium when we arrive early for some Masses?   

Perhaps it’s because we’ve forgotten about the actual, Real Presence of Christ being in our midst.  Or maybe it’s due to the joy we feel at seeing a friend or family member and relishing the opportunity to catch up with them socially.  There probably are any number of reasons we might cite collectively for this kind of behavior, but they’re just excuses—excuses for not maintaining dignified, respectful attitudes and behaviors.  Some folks get it, though.  At St. Mary’s Cathedral in Nebraska, the faithful quietly kneel or sit and pray before Mass—no socializing—and after Mass, 99% of them return to their knees for silent prayers of Thanksgiving after the recession out.  In another parish within our own diocese, the lights prior to Mass are dimmed and only brought up to full strength upon the procession in.  At Our Lady of Guadalupe in Colorado Springs, and Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Littleton (Latin Mass), the Holy Rosary is recited before Mass.  In all of these examples, there is an air of reverence and one feels the presence of God in the church with a small “c.” 

It is not the introverted accountant in me suggesting this.  Mass takes up only about an hour a week—we can catch up with friends and family at the after-Mass social gathering for coffee and donuts—let’s let one another have some quiet time before Mass to prepare to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior, showing respect to Jesus and to our neighbors. 

1 - Sanctuary, a holy place where God is present. In the wilderness, this was the tent of meeting or the tabernacle; in the time of Solomon, it was the temple at Jerusalem. There were, however, degrees of holiness in the temple. A few steps up from the court was the holy place, which was separated from the court by a hanging curtain. Only priests were allowed in the holy place. A few more steps and a curtain separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest was allowed. Sometimes the entire temple is called the sanctuary; at other times “sanctuary” means only the Holy of Holies Buchanan, G. W. (2011). In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition., p. 919). New York: HarperCollins.