Baptism

One thing that really gets me hot under the collar is the practice of Baptism being celebrated during Sunday Mass. I don't have an issue with it occurring during Mass per se, just when a family who I have never seen before in the Church are suddenly there presenting themselves and/or their children for Baptism. You just know you will never see them again there on a Sunday either. Much like I suggested in last week's post, their motivation appears not to receive the full blessings of a sacrament and to commit their child to a life of involvement in the Church, but to tick off the cultural marker of baptism. (Some might even be more cynical and say that the motivation is about a future ticket into the local catholic school).

When I see the infant children of young parents who are regular in Mass practices and Church involvement being baptised, then I feel joy and priviledge in being witness to it all, and I am pleased to be part of a community where there is such a visible expression of renewal and growth being celebrated. It's the interlopers I have issue with – those who come in to "get done", sit in the front row throughout the Mass, unsure of the responses and when to sit/ stand/ kneel etc, generally the godparents are non-Catholic, and there is just a real sense of "playing a game" to it all. And for me it comes back to this notion of the sacraments being undervalued and given away.

Jesus, on the other hand, would probably rejoice that the family came to Mass and received the sacrament for their child, even if they only came that once and never again. He didnt seem to get hung up on this type of thing during his earthly ministry – he accepted people where they were and for who they were.

He might not judge these families as harshly as I do. But then, as my wife reminds me during my post-Mass debrief with her, I can be a grumpy old man at times :)

 

I never mention priests by name but…

So in this blog I've always been pretty careful not to mention any priests by name. There have been times when you all know who I'm talking about I'm sure, but I've generally tried to preserve people's anonymity. But today I want to talk about a specific priest and what he's doing right in his part of the world.

On Sunday I was at Mum and Dad's in Hamilton and, as I usually do when I'm home for the weekend, I parted ways with them as they went off to 7.30am Mass at the Cathedral and I travelled across town to St Pius at Melville. I do this because I just love Fr Gerard Boyce's sermons. They give me stuff to reflect on for the week, they often challenge what I think about things and I just feel "fed" when I've been there. I also enjoy his absolute reverence for the Mass and the respect he shows towards the mystery of the Eucharist. And he didn't disappoint this week, with a sermon about a crucial item missing in our Church today – silence.

But what I wanted to blog about isn't the idea of silence (I might save that for next week). I wanted to blog about the fact that Fr Gerard's church is absolutely full to the brim on Sundays. Packed. People standing at the back. And, I would estimate that around 50% of the congregation were my age and younger. LOTS of young families, more than you generally see in other parishes.

So what is Fr Gerard doing to pull in the crowds? Has he brought in a big worship band with drums and guitars? No, the hymns were all hymns that I remember from my childhood, and all played on the organ. Has he "softened" the message of the Church to appeal to a wider group of people? Definitely not. His sermons are to the point and hard-hitting and always based on what the Church teaches. Has he started a "cool" youth group with fun activities and trips? Nope. 

What Gerard is doing is being totally faithful to the Church. He is a "traditional" priest (as in, he sticks to the traditions). He follows the rubrics, he shows huge respect for the blessed Sacrament (I even saw him on the weekend taking the time to ensure the tabernacle was properly veilled),  and great reverence for Christ (bowing his head whenever he says Jesus' name). I guess it also doesn't hurt that he is very intelligent, very clever and very witty with his sermons. He is also compassionate in his work as the hospital chaplain – we had personal experience with this when my nana died.

Maybe some other parishes in our diocese should take note. We the young(ish) people don't want fanfare, drums and entertainment. We are thirsting for tradition, for ritual, for reverence and for all of the wonderful things our mother Church has to offer us.

Valuing the Sacraments

In our parish the annual First Communion programme is underway. Our parish priest, assisted by a teacher aide from our school, runs this programme over a twelve week period, one after school session per week. There's a group of about twenty pupils attending, the majority of them being from our Catholic school. There is an expectation that those enrolling for this programme will also be attending Mass each week as part of their preparation.

For some families, the commitment required to attend is too high, so their children do not make their First Communion. I have been approached on occasion in my capacity as school Principal to "have a word" with the Priest and see if a more concise programme can be offered "because people are busy". The majority of these parents simply want to "get their child done" – it's not about valuing a sacrament, it's about getting that cultural marker of First Communion ticked off as effortlessly as possible.

I remind them that they do not ask for the same brevity from their child's sports coaches/ music teachers etc in other after school programmes and encourage them to reflect on their attitudes and motivations towards the programme.

In another school that I am aware of, the entire preparatory programme consists of a one-off evening run by the staff of the school, and the Priest's only involvement comes during the Sunday when all children are presented for their First Communion. Now I don't know the reason why it is run this way with so little formation, and I try not to judge the comparative worth of that programme versus ours, but I personally struggle to see the point of offering it at all when there is no depth or significance attached to it.

The point of this post is not to bag schools but to highlight the growing devaluing of sacramental life. I have a couple of posts on this in the can which will appear in the coming weeks, this week's one is focussed on First Communion but the others will be on other sacraments.

What do the BF clan think – are we losing sight of what makes the sacraments sacred when we have a once over lightly approach? Or is it better to have a low expectation/ commitment, and kick on from there?

The Sign of Peace…

An interesting article here about the Sign of Peace.

The Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments have been studying the Sign of Peace and its place in the Mass since 2007. Nine years seems like an extraordinary amount of time to be researching a relatively small (both doctrinally and time-wise) part of the Mass. You may be wondering what amazing conclusions they have come to after nine years of study and consultation… well, their conclusion is that it should remain the same. The same words, the same place in the Mass.

HOWEVER, they are suggesting some education for Catholics world-wide about the correct way to participate in the Sign of Peace. The following are their four "no-nos":

…they should do everything possible to end "abuses" such as:

  • "The introduction of a 'song for peace,' which is nonexistent in the Roman rite."
  • "The movement of the faithful from their places to exchange the sign of peace amongst themselves."
  • "The departure of the priest from the altar in order to give the sign of peace to some of the faithful."
  • People using the sign of peace at Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings, ordinations and funerals to offer holiday greetings, congratulations or condolences.

A 'song of peace'???? Never heard or seen it done. Has anyone come across this practice? Sounds bizarre.

 

I have to slightly disagree with the second point – leaving your seat to exchange the sign of peace. In one of my past parishes there was one particular parishioner, an elderly gentleman who always sat on his own at Mass. He was generally known around the place as a very grumpy old man. He sat directly across the aisle from me at weekday Masses and I would always make a point of crossing the aisle and shaking his hand. If I hadn't he wouldn't have had anyone to share the Sign of Peace with. It's how I built up a bond with him. And you know what? I certainly saw his acidic nature with other parishioners, but he would've done anything for me. Because I included him and I guess because we shared Christ's peace.

 

The third point – the departure of the priest from the altar. I have seen this being abused, but on the other hand, I have seen beautiful examples of this as well. I have been at a Mass at a certain Auckland parish where the priest seemed to disappear into the congregation for ages while he shook everyone's hand up and down the central aisle. Meanwhile, we're all standing there waiting. But I've also been at a weekday Mass where there were only three of us present, plus the priest. It was a beautiful Mass, it was night time and it felt very intimate in a little chapel with just the four of us. Sharing the Sign of Peace with the priest at this Mass just felt appropriate. I've also been at a Mass where the priest left the altar to offer the Sign of Peace to a girl with Downs Syndrome who ran to the front and called out to him each week. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

 

The fourth point, about people using the Sign of Peace to say "Merry Christmas" or "Congratulations" I had never really thought about and I have to say I'm guilty of doing just those things. Particularly at Midnight Mass when Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day and during Confirmation when you're shaking hands with a newly confirmed Catholic. I've also been guilty of giving a hug rather than a handshake. I used to sit directly behind this lovely old couple and at the sign of peace the husband would always lean over and give his wife a kiss on the check and a hug, and that always made me smile. 

 

On a normal Sunday however I do usually stick to the words, "Peace be with you." But I'm wondering now as I write this, how many other people say those words? I don't really notice when I'm at Mass. From memory I think most people just shake hands in silence, but that could be because I get in first.

 

Another thing the article brings up is that it's OK not to include the sign of peace "if it is foreseen that it will not take place properly," I absolutely agree with this. Many, many times I have been in a school Mass and said a silent prayer of thanks when the priest leaves out the Sign of Peace. Trying to tame 27 five year olds who think this is their opportunity to squeeze each other's hands off or shake as many hands as possible is not an easy task.

 

The other thing this brought to mind was the traditional Latin Mass – I seem to remember that there's a little sort of "hug" of peace which goes from the celebrant, to the other priests, to the deacons, to the altar servers. I remember being told that this is symbolic of the peace flowing down from the altar to the rest of the congregation. A beautiful idea, but I remember thinking at the time, if they want to symbolise it coming out to the people, why don't they actually take it out to the people in the pews? Why does it stop on the other side of the altar rail. Because surely that symbolises that the peace is only for those in the sanctuary, not for the common folk. 

 

Wow, who knew I had so much to say on the Sign of Peace? No wonder it took the Congregation nine years to study!

I just don’t feel it

Confession time. I know that Mary is a massive part of the Catholic faith and that what she did in saying her "yes" was an amazing example to us all. But I've just never had a big devotion to Mary.

I wonder if part of this is because I don't feel the need for a spiritual mother. I have a great Mum right here on earth. I wonder if I didn't have that experience of having a Mum to look after me, whether I would have felt closer to Mary. Also, I'm not a mother myself, so maybe that has a part to play.

I wonder if part of it is because as a child I was much more interested in the Martyrs. Their stories seemed much more exciting than Mary's story. In fact, as a child. I was much more fascinated by Gabriel than by Mary in the story of the Annunciation.

I also think that part of it is that we just don't know much about her. The Bible is so silent on Mary. What was she like as a person? What was her daily life like? What kind of Mum was she? What kind of wife was she? Was she terrified when she had to give birth in a stable? Who were her friends? Did she fully understand who her son was?

It's not that I have an aversion to Mary, not at all. Like I said before I think she is a role model of faith to us all. It's just that I don't feel any special link or devotion to her.

I have my "go-to" saints that I pester for different occassions. St Michael is a particular favourite of mine when I'm in need of protection. St Mary of the Cross is someone I call on when I'm needing help at work because she was a teacher too. St Peter is someone I'll talk to when I've made a big mistake. Maybe I don't have need to call on Mary because her main function was as a mother, and I'm not a mother.

Do you have "go-to" saints that you call on for different things? And am I the only one out here who doesn't feel a devotion to Our Lady?

We Are Not the Reapers

I heard a great introduction to last Sunday's Gospel on the weekend (at the beginning of Mass). For those of you who didn't find your Sunday preaching so memorable here's the Gospel to spark your memory…

Matt. 13: 24-30. Short Form. Jesus put before the crowds a parable, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?' He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' The servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers. Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

 The usual take I hear on this Gospel is that we need to be careful that we are not the weeds that are taken off to be burnt. But this week the sentence that was the focus was "'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he said, 'No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.'" The small introduction that was read at the beginning of Mass reminded us that it is not our job to judge. It is not our job to say who will be condemned and who will be saved. We are NOT the reapers. God and his angels will do this job. It is our job to live good lives. To be the wheat amongst the weeds.

The Gospel also indicates that the reason this job has not been given to us is because we might very well mistake wheat for weeds (or good for evil). This really hit a chord with me. As much as we can disapprove of people's actions, we never really know what is in that person's heart. Only God is able to really know a person.

This also led to me thinking that it is also only God who is capable of loving us so completely as to look past our many faults and see the goodness in us. We ALL have the potential to be weeds. But God sees us as his sons and daughters and loves us regardless of our failings. As humans we could never love like that, which is why we could never be fair judges when it came down to it.

This also brought to mind the novel The Shack. Anyone else read it? There is a remarkable scene in The Shack where the main character confronts God about how He could possibly love the man who attacked and murdered this man's little daughter. God turns the tables on this man who has two remaining daughters and asks him to choose which one can go to heaven. It seems, on the surface, an obvious choice. One of his daughters is living a good and holy life, the other one is into drugs and is non-communicative with the family. However, as a father, this man cannot condemn either of his children to hell, his love for them is so great. God uses this to show the man that this is how it is for Him also. Even though the murderer has done horrific things, he is still God's child, and God still loves him like a father and hopes for his repentance. Very powerful stuff.

Pulling Up Stumps (Kind of)

Well this post probably won't come as a suprise to regular readers over the last few weeks, but I am withdrawing from regular weekly postings here at Being Frank.

I've enjoyed it – even when I've had posts that people disagree strongly with, or are apathetic to, and most especially when I've gained encouragement from people's kind comments.

I'd planned to post here for a year, and I've come close to fulfilling that, but things have changed for me since I first took on the role. Family life is busier, and my work demands and pressures have grown enormously. It has come to a point for me where I have to prioritise where I can offer my time and energy.

I plan to leave the door ajar slightly by posting less regularly, so you might find the odd post here on a Thursday, but it's unlikely to be every week anymore. I also want to be in a position to post when I am inspired by something, or have something to genuinely offer for debate or reflection, rather than feeling like, "it's Thursday, what I am I going to post about this week?". And if I'm honest, that's how I have felt sometimes. As Lucia Maria commented last week, you have to be passionate about blogging or else don't bother. And that comment of hers really made me think deeply about my involvement here. I want to contribute because I genuinely have something to offer, not out of a sense of obligation, or because it's "my day to post".

So it's not really a goodbye, but rather than being the familiar neighbour who pops in here for a chat every week, I might be more like the long-lost relative who turns up unexpectedly from time to time. I hope to also get involved more in the other side of the fence through commenting etc.

Thanks one and all, Boan.