Monday, September 21, 2009

Because Catholicism is Messy

Father Barnes recently said, quoting George Weigel, I think, that the wonderful thing about Catholicism is, it's messy. The thought hit me again yesterday afternoon as I attended Mass at St. Anthony's Shrine in Boston with Lorenzo and other friends from Communion and Liberation (CL). It was back in force this morning as I pondered a reading for the Feast of St. Matthew.

I don't know what Weigel means by messy, but this is what I mean. How could these both be "Mass"?!

Exhibit A: An improvisational Franciscan celebration with a homily by a nun, an annotated Lord's Prayer (including Francis's meditations, so that The Annotated Our Father runs 5 minutes instead of the usual 20 seconds), and loud, rhythmic music, a la The Captain and Tennille, which led Gabriele, an Italian musician and CL stalwart to smile kindly as we walked out beneath banners reading "All Are Welcome" and say, "Sort of rock, yes?"

Exhibit B: A traditional by-the-numbers Mass celebrated with no-nonsense reverence, no improvisation, and, inevitably, a thought-shaking homily at our parish church in Beverly, built a century ago by devout Italian immigrants whose grandchildren are still among the earliest arrivals at 7 a.m. daily services?

Our Cardinal Archbishop, Seán O'Malley (is that accent out of place, or is it just me?), is a Franciscan and therefore it was no surprise to hear the sister's homily start out with in-your-face provocation to anyone who took offense at the Cardinal's presiding at the Kennedy funeral. Let me just say, though, that with all due respect for the Shrine and its fine parishioners, I know several fine Catholics who might well have walked out in protest the moment the homily began. Me? I gritted my teeth while tapping my foot to The Captain and Tennille.

So what's Catholicism? Believe me, I'm not here to tell you. I testify only as a completely happy convert completely perplexed by what one commenter called the ongoing "donnybrook" within the Church. Latin Mass? Vernacular Mass? A priest who celebrates ad orientem or one who plays to the crowd? As Adam "The Stoner" Rove habitually says on "Joan of Arcadia," chah, Jane.

Perhaps you can see why this "joke," mentioned in a previous blog, sticks in my mind:

What are the three things God does not know? (1) How many orders of Franciscans there are. (2) How much money the Dominicans have. (3) What the heck the Jesuits are doing.

Not laughing at this joke, but staring slack-jawed instead, exposes me as a neophyte Catholic, I know. But someone, please, tell me: Here we have three of the most significant orders founded in the past 2000 years, and the "joke" is that they've all gone off the rails? You call that a church?

Don't get me started on politics. It took me three months as a Catholic to realize that the Register and the Reporter, both claiming to be "National" and "Catholic," were screaming at each other from opposite sides of the playground. "Did not!" "Did so!" As I approach my daily goal of 700+ words, I'm more comfortable moving right to Matthew and closing with a word from Our Lord.

No one could figure out what Jesus was doing inviting a tax collector to follow Him. The Pharisees and Saducees were scandalized, and Peter, James, John, and the rest of the gang were also puzzled, I imagine. How could a corrupt functionary of the Roman empire be allowed into the proto-Church surrounding Jesus? Pretty messy, wouldn't you say?

St. Bede's homily that provides today's second reading from the Office helps me to understand a bit better:

Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men. He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: Follow me.

This is all we can do, I think: Follow Him—while all the time scratching our heads at the strange assortment of "Catholics" surrounding us and moving more or less in the same direction.