martedì 10 marzo 2015

What is real and true

A response to A PRIEST’S CONVERSION – “I GET IT NOW!” by Fr. Richard Heilman

By pure chance I came across a blog post by a priest named Fr. Richard Heilman. I was struck by his candor and astonished by the many things that he said that were true – and equally astonished by a few things he said that were categorically untrue.

Fr. Heilman began by recounting the numerous strangers – the pest control guy, the checkout guy at a convenience store, a couple of guys at a party – whom he invited to drop by his church sometime. And they did. This all occurred within the last week.

I admit it: I felt a tinge of joy reading about Fr. Heilman’s evangelistic successes.

Something is happening in the Church and in the world today. And, I know something is happening with me. I can’t recall many times (any?) in my priesthood that I would unabashedly – with great confidence and joy – invite people on the street to these amazing sacraments. 

Personal invitation is the only way to build an organization without dumbing down. If you rely on advertising, you need a gimmick – something catchy, cheapening, and at least partially untrue. If instead you invite someone, the invited decides to come. The inviter doesn’t have to lower the quality of the product – the invited has already decided to give it a try.

Fr. Heilman continued:

I had spent a great portion of my priesthood buying into the notion that, if we create all kinds of trendy “programs” and socials, while we kept our liturgy as cheery and entertaining as possible, people would hear about how “cool” and “fun” and “with the times” we were, and come running. We may have “held our own” with numbers in the pew, but I also noticed the average age was continuing to rise, and – where were all the men? I could see that, while this trendy approach had short-term results, the future was looking unsustainable. It didn’t make sense. I was led to believe that “hip” and “trendy” appealed to the youth. And, we believed men didn’t go for all that ceremonial stuff – “Johnny Six-pack” likes it “real” like the rest of the world.

Naturally, I have been saying these things for decades, as have most of my colleagues. But to hear a priest say it was powerful. If the Millennials are interested in one thing, they’re interested in what is real and true.

However, it is on this very point that Fr. Heilman started to go astray.

First, the Internet was invented (thanks, Al Gore?). With the advent of the Internet, we began immersing ourselves in truth. Prior to this, we took the word of the so-called “experts” – those who specialized in such things as liturgy. These experts would give us directions and we would follow, never suspecting there may be more to understanding the deeper truths of the liturgy. Now, with so much information at our fingertips, we were becoming experts ourselves, overnight.

Unintentionally, Fr. Heilman touched upon an important fact: Millennials are educated, they can read, they have Internet access, and for those reasons, they will not, and should not, accept any old Medieval malarky that happens to emanate from the pulpit.

But Fr. Heilman continues:

With truth in hand, we were shocked and appalled to discover that, up to that point, we were receiving information through a liberal/modernist/progressive (pick one) filter. Essential facts were being left out or twisted to perpetuate this modern liberal agenda. There was an emphasis on what they wanted us to know, and a de-emphasis of things they did not want us to know. The fortunate and hopeful reality of our times is that “truth” is like a poison for the whole liberal movement. Many, especially the young who are more Internet savvy, are not buying what the liberals are selling any longer. This is one of the reasons why, I believe, our older generation remains indoctrinated in the liberal agenda – they are simply not using the Internet to the degree in which young people are today. And, I believe, this is one of the main reasons seminarians today tend to be more traditional. The liberal professors have a much more difficult time convincing them to follow their false agenda any longer.

What? In what diocese are the older congregants liberal? The Diocese of Fantasyland?  The vast majority of Catholics that I know are what I call “automatic Republicans” – they vote Republican because of The One Issue. I agree that abortion is a serious matter. However, for all its preoccupation with what happens before you’re born and after you’ve died, the Church often fails people who are still alive. The other reason most Catholics vote Republican is because conservativism does not conserve people – it conserves institutions. If gay marriage is OK, that shakes the foundations of Catholic teaching. Unfortunately for the institution, Jesus would say that homosexuals are real, living human beings, as are African-Americans, divorcees, and so forth. Rather than rush to strengthen those human beings, conservative churches rush to strengthen the teetering institution.

Frankly, I’m surprised that so many Italians practice Catholicism. Italians above anyone else appreciate the importance and significance of breaking bread together. How can a church hold up a banner that says, “ALL ARE WELCOME”? A truthful banner would include the footnote, “You can’t eat the meal with us, but you’re welcome.”

Fr. Heilman was fully within the borders of Fantasyland with his fictional description of the “liberal filter.” I almost laughed out loud. Any attempt to compare liberal secrecy with conservative secrecy cannot be serious. “What melting glaciers? I didn’t see any melting glaciers.” The GOP doesn’t lack a filter; they lack a thermometer. Now, would you like to talk about the secrecy of the Roman Catholic Church? I didn’t think so.

But as the topic turned toward liturgy, I started to feel a twinge of joy again.

The light of faith in our Church was rapidly dimming, and the way to restore its blaze once again was by, first, restoring the liturgy: “It is in the treatment of the liturgy that the fate of the Faith and of the Church is decided” (Pope Benedict XVI). Pope Benedict’s legacy was in trying to recover the sense of transcendence and beauty of the liturgy.  

I wanted to cheer when Fr. Heilman said,

We’ve come to understand that when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated with due reverence, honor and beauty, it opens our hearts to receive the magnificent power and majesty of God. It is the spark that, quite literally, changes a person. 

In my long career, I have never seen a shred of evidence to support the theory (which, thankfully, Fr. Heilman doesn’t hold) that beautiful liturgy in itself drives parishioners away, and “lighter” liturgy in itself attracts parishioners. I personally have worked in churches with beautiful liturgy yet many young people in the pews, and churches with guitars and drums yet very few young people in the pews. I’ve seen it many times, and in each case the difference was not the liturgy – it was the pastor.

In one respect, my perspective is clearer than that of most clerics. I have worked for virtually every major denomination, thus I can often see what each church has to offer, or “has going for it” so to speak. More than any other denomination, Catholicism captures the mystery. The stained glass, incense, and (in a few churches) reverent music enhance a worship service filled with readings and dogma which, frankly, don’t always make sense. There is little in the Creed that corcords with the laws of science. That’s a hard sell for college-educated Millennials who just incurred $200,000 in debt so that they could learn the laws of science. Now they’re expected to believe in a God who says, “I gave you a brain. Now, I require you to believe things that make no sense.”

According to Fr. Heilman,

Young people ... are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality, and they weren’t finding it until now.

The Millennials are looking for something – in particular, those with young children, whom they hope will grow up with “some sort of church experience.” According to Fr. Heilman, what they’re looking for is an encounter with the Divine; Someone who transcends them; Someone who is big enough, large enough, great enough to take care of them and lead them into an amazing new life. Alas, I don’t think that’s what most young people are looking for at all. After years of listening to the litany of grown ups’ lies, they seek what is real and true. They buy fresh coffee beans, not Sanka. They buy artisan breads, not Sunbeam. They buy Italian extra-virgin olive oil, not Wesson. They’re tired of the big companies poisoning the environment.  And yes, they are more fascinated by the pipe organ than by electronic substitutes. As for 60s-style guitar-strumming: if even I, born in 1971, am too young to remember that music, why would someone born in 1995 long to hear it?

Fr. Heilman concluded:

Now, I could look that pest control guy and Kwik Trip dude in the eye and say, “I know what you are looking for, man … Come Home!! We have it here!!”

Assuming, of course, that those guys are heterosexual and have never been divorced.

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