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Monday, March 30, 2009

Angry Mass

I've already had plenty of experiences of "sleepy mass," and only a few instances of, thank God, "totally uninspired" mass (I'm talking about my own masses, not those presided over by other priests), but today was my first experience of "angry" mass.

I'll explain. If you made it to mass today, you'll know that the readings were the story of Susannah, from the Book of Daniel, and the story of the woman caught in adultery, from the Gospel of John. As I considered what to say in my homily this morning, I realized that there was no way around it--today's readings definitely had something to say about injustice against women. To avoid the issue, as some might have, seemed to me to be ignoring the elephant in the room. Today's readings clearly had something to say to use about gender justice, and the injustice perpetrated against women by abuse of power and sinful double standards. That's what I spoke about in my homily. I admitted that I myself haven't exactly been the best advocate of gender justice, and have been known to roll my eyes at academic discussions of the evils of patriarchy, but that it was clear in these two readings that gender justice is something we are meant to be concerned about. We are called, like Daniel, not to stand idly be but to speak up when we see injustice being perpetrated against women. And, we are challenged by Jesus to examine the ways in which our own attitudes and opinions ignore such abuses of power, and conform to sinful double standards. And while we can often point to more egregious examples of injustice and violence against women in other countries, that shouldn't prevent us from recognizing that there is plenty happening here, right in our own communities.

Honestly, this was a bit out of my comfort zone, and so I was pretty nervous. I wasn't sure how people would react. I was pleased with the homily, though it took a lot out of me. And, as I reflected for a few moments afterward, I was confident that what I had said indeed reflected God's concern.

And that was why I was so appalled and angered by the prayers of the faithful! Now, they come from a book which the parish bought, so no one there is to blame, but I couldn't believe that after I had said all that, the first prayer was for "our bishops, priests, and deacons." And it only got worse. There was not a single mention of women, never mind injustice against women. I wanted to scream! Instead, I did the more genteel thing, and added my own prayer at the end for women who are victims of sexual abuse and violence. I wonder if I should have said something more, but I always want to be careful not to distract people from the liturgy of the Eucharist (and I'd already said quite a bit). And, hey, I'm saying something more now.

But I was distracted, and I wondered if people noticed that I was angered by how the prayers had indeed managed to ignore the elephant in the room. I couldn't help but wonder if that was a deliberate omission, and whether the people who wrote the prayers had considered how out of sync that first prayer was likely to be with many a homily today. Sometimes at mass I'm taken by how well the prayers, usually written independently of me, fit with the subject of my homily. And sometimes when they don't, I wonder if I missed something. But today was the first time that I felt the prayers didn't seem to get it at all; that it wasn't me who missed something. I'm certainly going to mention this to the pastor. Maybe it's time to get a new prayer book.

But it was a strange experience to be praying the prayers while I was angry. And though we had a long first reading, in which case I would sometimes pray the shorter Eucharistic Prayer II, I deliberately avoided that Eucharistic prayer today, because it is less inclusive, and most strikingly only prays for the Pope, Bishop and all the clergy when that time comes. There aren't the prayers for all who have been called to Christ's friendship and the family gathered, as there are in other Eucharistic prayers. I also found myself becoming much more conscious of the gender language in the prayers than I usually am. That doesn't mean you're going to find me praying to God the Mother, or anything like that, but I did feel compelled to pay more attention.

One person came and thanked me after Mass. I wonder what the others thought. Perhaps for some it was a bit too much for a Monday morning, but it's certainly got me thinking, as you can tell. Hopefully, they are thinking about it too.

And, you too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Before I became a Jesuit I worked in a parish where one of my duties was to coordinate the Confirmation program. I think we did a pretty good job. I tried to emphasize to the students that Confirmation was something they should do if they wanted to, not just because everyone else, or because that's what their parents wanted. That usually didn't make much difference, but at least I said it. Still, I had the consolation of knowing that the students had learned something. I also had a sense that most of them and their families came to church on a fairly regular basis. There weren't so many, though indeed a few, whom after confirmation I never saw again.

This year I had my first experience of concelebrating a Confirmation mass as a priest. We had dinner before hand with the Bishop. Someone asked what percentage of those to be confirmed came to church on a regular basis. The shocking answer was "15, maybe 20 percent"! I wish the question had never been asked, because I couldn't put it out of my mind. I looked out at all the young people--and there were quite a few--out there with there sponsors and families, dressed in their nice robes, and I thought: What are we doing? Is this all just playacting? Why are we going through all the motions if most of the people here really aren't serious about what's going on; If they have no intention of taking their place as adult members of the Church? Can't we do better than this?

Many people would probably tell you that no, we can't. But we have to.

I think we are on the verge of a real vocation crisis, a vocation crisis that has nothing to do with people choosing to be priests or religious. It is much more fundamental than that. It has do with people choosing a vocation to a life of faith, a life in the Church. I'm not a pessimistic person, but it just seems like going through the motions and hoping for the best, just isn't going to cut it. We have to find a way to show young people why they should want to choose a life for Christ. Being a confirmed Catholic out to be something they aspire to, something they get excited about, something that is just the beginning, not the welcome end to tedious CCD classes or parental pressure.

Yeah, we should hope for the best. But how do we help those hopes be realized?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Searching for Some Good Films?

Check out this interesting Catholic Top 100 film list!
It's not all saccharine, sappy films--The Godfather and Groundhog Day are up there among the best!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Confessions

I wasn't too serious--or mean. I tried my best to put them at ease. "God is happy that you are here," I told them. Nevertheless, they were nervous. The girls, especially, couldn't sit still. So, I didn't keep them long. Some of them seemed unsure what to confess. So, I helped them along, hoping to get at least one sin out of them, so I could give them absolution and let them go!

It was a good experience. And, hopefully, they found it a nice enough experience that they might come back soon, and not wait until Confirmation!

Sorry for the long absence. I'm hoping not to be gone so long again.