The Devil Waits Outside the Church

The Devil Waits Outside the Church

She arrived during the homily. Walking right up to the statue of Mary Help of Christians, crowned with May flowers and lovingly arranged her small spray in the Virgin’s arms. She genuflected, then crossed to the altar and prostrated herself, before proceeding to sit on the other side.

devil waits
St. Michael and the Devil

I recognized her from 6:30 am daily Mass and from the food pantry. I had suspected for some time that she had some kind of mental illness and was perhaps homeless. Though of late, she had been fixing herself up and dressing with more dignity.

My dad, who suffers from dementia, had had a rough week, which I attributed to the heavy overcast. Therefore, I also attributed her strange behavior to that as well. It was the first time I had seen her exhibit such a level of inappropriateness during Mass.

When she went up to serve as a Eucharistic Minister, there was more bowing and prostrating. She held the chalice on the crown of her head and then kissed it. She did offer the Blood of Christ appropriately to the faithful. But when she returned it to the table at the side of the altar, there was more show, and putting it on her head and such. Finally, Father spoke a few quiet words to her and removed the vessel and cloth from her hands. She submissively returned to her seat, with no further exhibition.

All this was difficult for me to observe. I wanted it to end, to not distract me from the Mass. I was irritated. It was wasting my time and distracting me. I was not feeling loving or kind. I realized this and forced myself to be patient.

It was the comments I heard after Mass that angered me. “Someone needs to get that woman off the altar. It was sacrilegious!”  Yes, I believe she does need to be gently corrected, perhaps guided into some other area of ministry. Nevertheless, I must take issue with this.

For years now, I have watched this congregation shunt its elderly, disabled, and mentally ill to the side. Even out the door. Making them feel unwelcome and unwanted. Shame on you.

You boast of a school to form young Catholics but then you disrespect the ones who worked for decades to build this church and that school. Who gave of their time, their talent, and their money. Shame on you.

You too will be there. How will you feel when people push you further and further to the door? Did the patron of your parish love his boys but not his parents? Did he tell his mother that he did not need her anymore because her abilities were lagging? Is it only the children and youth who are welcome in the kingdom of God? People can serve many different ways. It is sad when the community only selects the bright, the beautiful, and the young and then complains that there is not enough help.

I have not seen her since the incident. I hope she has not shaken the dust of this community from her shoes. But I fear she has. May she find the love and acceptance she deserves.

The devil does indeed await us just outside the church. We must strive to continue to be the Body of Christ to the world, starting with each other.

 

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Big Church Little Church

I have to admit, I am partial to little churches and missions. My “home” congregation consists of about 60 families. I like the intimacy, the colorful characters, even the feuding. To me, it is so much more like a family. Yes, we have our differences, we frequently do not get along, but we pull together in times of crisis and need. It is our Catholic life.

In a big church, I feel lost. There seem to be so many people and so much to do. I lose focus. I get complacent. There are too many choices. The children are sent out during Mass, not taught to sit quietly, participate fully and honor the Sacrament. The music is modernized to entertain and attract an audience. Just my take on things.

Inside tiny Stella Maris, Lamar, TX

I walk in to a big, modern Catholic church and I can’t find the holy water. I want to bless myself with it when I walk in and when I walk out. It is a sacramental reminder of my devotion. Now, there is usually one large font, instead of the small ones at each door. I feel funny walking up to that big baptismal pond to use the holy water, then find my way out.

St. Anne’s, Deming, NM


I still want to genuflect when I enter the pew where I am going to sit. I am here for Mass and I want to honor my Host. I want to put the kneeler down and spend some quiet time in prayer and thanksgiving before and after Mass.  Most often, now, the Blessed Sacrament is not even kept in the main part of the church, but in an attached adoration chapel. I guess that’s okay for big churches.

View from Lake Lodge rec room, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

On this pilgrimage of slow travel, I have attended Mass in churches in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Texas. It is always an adventure, come Saturday, to find out where we will be attending Mass on Sunday. The Holy Eucharist is always nourishing and enriching. Small churches just ensnare my heart. St. Anne’s in Ash Fork and St. Francis in Seligman, Arizona, where I had the honor of leading the music for 15 years. The rec room of the Lake Lodge in Yellowstone NP, Wyoming, where we attended when we were there for my daughter’s wedding. St. Anne’s in Deming, NM, where we worshiped after a long night of trying to find a campsite in the dark. Stella Maris, outside of Goose Island SP, Texas, where we shivered on top of an AC vent, until someone realized it was cold outside and in and turned it off. The pastor there had recently been healed of stage 4 cancer and spoke confidently about God’s merciful love and healing. 

This week of our full-time rving life, this awesome road trip, we will be celebrating Ash Wednesday in a big church in Texas and we will be grateful to have found another spiritual home on the road.

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Form and Substance

Outdoor altar at the Memorial to the Unborn, St. Germaine’s Catholic Church, Prescott Valley, AZ

There is a lot of contention these days about the particular form of things.  What words should be used in the prayers of the Mass.  What gestures should be made.  How we should place the furniture (ie., altar, tabernacle, pews, etc.).  These are all superficialities.  I would gladly attend Mass out in a parking lot, with a tailgate for an altar, and the priest wearing makeshift vestments.  I am more concerned about the substance of my faith. The Holy Eucharist.  The Word of God.  The Homily that touches my heart and gives me new insight, inspiration, or at least food for thought.

The only things I want to concern myself with are – am I ready to receive Jesus into my heart?  Am I trying to live the kind of life He would have me live?  Am I too attached to property, prestige and power in my life? Just give me the Mass, Holy Communion and the Word.  I hate having my faith chopped up by fellow believers who want to nitpick over fluff and stuff.  Who buy into slanders against and focus on the imperfections of our leaders.  Who want to feel superior because they use a certain form of practice which will get them into heaven, while the rest of us roast, simply because we do not subscribe to their “form”.  I could well be wrong, but I believe that God will judge on more of what is in our hearts and how we treat others.

I certainly don’t mean that form is not at all important.  I am simply of the opinion that there is a committee of guys in red hats who get paid the big bucks to worry about all that stuff.  Whatever they decide for the moment on format, is not going to impact whether I stay or leave the church.  The substance of our faith is, has and always will be the Word of God, and the Body and Blood of Christ.  As long as that continues, we’re good.  Don’t get distracted by the side show.

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Still Bucking the New Translation – Really??

Thanks to Dr. Jerry Galipeau’s excellent blog, Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray, I actually have a “keep it simple” topic  for today;)  Due to all the uproar about the New Translation, and also due to my continuing efforts to be a passable music director for my parishes, I try to follow Dr. Jerry’s blog.  He has been involved with publishing liturgical music for years, and his posts are usually informative and entertaining.  For several months now, he has been posting on issues with the New Translation of the Roman Missal, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I take a look every once in awhile.  The New Translation was mandated for use beginning in Advent of last year.  Six months later, people are still arguing its pros and cons.  Personally, though I like the New Translation, it would really make no difference to me if we went back to the old.

Okay, so I’m an oddball.  Part of me is traditional.  I wear the chapel veil.  I think the music for Mass should be dignified hymns or soft, inspirational melodies and chant, not “praise and worship, rock my world” stuff.  I prefer the tabernacle to be behind the altar, and the church to be dark and quiet, respectful, prayerful.  So I don’t always get my way.  I like to hear Mass in my primary language, but I want to share the joy with my friends who don’t speak or understand English so well, so I embrace the bi-lingual Mass, and can even muddle through a bit of Spanish.  Luckily I can play the flute and the organ in both Spanish and English. (yeah, some dumb humor;)  As a returned-fallen-away Catholic, I’m there for Mass.  Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus Body and Blood for my salvation.  Holy Communion is the common union with my fellow Mass-goers, and by extension the whole church, and hopefully one day the whole world, as the Body of Christ.

I go to Mass to hear the Word of God proclaimed and taught.  I want to learn how to be a better person.  I go to Mass to receive Holy Communion, Jesus entering into union with me to strengthen and transform me.  To remind me of my connection with that guy over there whose manners I find repulsive (hmm…is pride any better?).  And the lady whose dress is too short and too low cut (didn’t I used to dress like that myself?)  And the family who only shows up on Palm Sunday (there were a few years when I didn’t show up at all).  I don’t go to bicker over this word here or that word there.  I’ll let the pope and the cardinals and the bishops and their committees worry about all that stuff.  Life is too complicated.  For this simple-minded Catholic, I’ll take Dr. Jerry’s advice – gotta sing, gotta pray.  Nuff said.

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