What Catholic Renewal Looks Like
It has been a bad year to be a Catholic. A really bad year. But there are glimmers of light and I was blessed to have been part of one of them recently.
I have not written about things Catholic for quite awhile. It has been a year since the revelation hit that Cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick had, through a period of decades, sexually abused a number of seminarians and young priests under his authority. All this after a similar scandal back in the early 2000s which resulted in massive changes in reporting and investigating abuse. But not abuse committed by Bishops, alas.
For anyone interested in an update as to where this all stands a good summary can be found here, so I do not intend to dive back into this stuff again. At least not as of now. Suffice it to say that Bishops the world around (up to and including those in Rome) have acquitted themselves poorly on this score, whether by actively committing abuse, protecting those who have committed it or by failing to address something that every last one of them knows to be a problem. That McCarrick’s misdeeds came to light only after the discovery that one of his many victims had been a minor tells us that we may never have known the extent of his moral rot had he checked IDs on his victims before abusing them.
Most are familiar with the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). I have spent most of my time in steps two and four. I do not see my self making it to step 5 because the idea of accepting this kind of behavior puts me right back into stage 2 in a sort of emotional loop that sends my soul crashing.
I was able, however, to see something beyond all of this mess recently as I watched my son and three other young men commit their lives to something unique.
I have written before about my son and his journey from his intended life in sports broadcasting into one as a Dominican friar. By way of review, the Dominicans (or, more formally, Order of Preachers) were founded by St. Dominic in 1216 as a religious order within the Catholic Church. Their purpose is to live a life poverty, chastity and obedience in the service of study and preaching. I went into some detail about how religious orders fit in with the Church as a whole here, so I will not plow that ground again.
My offspring’s journey took a really big step a couple of weeks ago when he made his solemn profession to the Order. This is not a priestly ordination, but rather a permanent commitment to the Order as a marriage might be for most of the rest of us. In his words, where his name has been written in pencil for the previous five years of discernment, it has now been entered with a Sharpie.
I took my seat in a somewhat unsettled state. Not unsettled with what would be happening, but with the dry, unsettled feeling of scandal-fatigue. It keeps coming in wave after wave and I am having a difficult time getting back to basics.
But they got me with beauty. I am convinced that beauty is a tremendously under-used method of evangelization. My weekly worship experience is in a big white box. There is the occasional banner but not much else in the way of adornment. The music is simple, usually with a piano and the hymns are often, well, uninspiring. There is much good there and many friends, but the physical experience is underwhelming.
On this particular day in a church in the Chicago suburbs, I got the full meal deal which few get to experience today. The Catholic Mass should be all about the senses. The building was beautiful. When my mind wandered, the eye found an anchor point which directed the mind back to why I am there.
There was incense for the nose. Scripture readings and preaching was for the ears (something that is generally done quite well in my home parish) but there was a level of music (in terms of what was chosen and in how it was performed) that was oh, so fulfilling in a way that is difficult to describe. Whether it was the instrumentalists, the impressive choir or the grand old pipe organ, there was no mistaking that this was not an ordinary day.
One by one the four men took their vows and were formally accepted as brothers of the Order. And in what may have been the most touching moment of all, we witnessed the Dominican custom in which every Dominican in attendance lined both sides of the center aisle as the new brothers made their way down to the end of one side and back up the other with a welcoming embrace from their brothers (and sisters). This was a long, long center aisle and the display of familial welcome was truly awe inspiring. The other feeling that welled up within me was one of hope. The failings of Catholic clergy over the previous generations has been on display for all of us to see. But in these four young men I saw hope.
You see, I know these men. They are not going down this road because it is cushy, because it is easy, or because it is the path to respect and self-esteem. They are not there to hide from the world or from themselves. Each would make the kind of husband and father who would make their families proud, but they have given up that desire for a greater one. They are going down a road that they know is going to be far harder for them than it was for recent generations. But they are going down that road anyway.
They are going down this road because they believe in the one who first marked the path and they wish with all their hearts to follow it. These are not guys who will tell us what we want to hear in order to juice Sunday collections or numbers in the pews. These are men who are ready to do the hard work that has sadly been ignored by too many of the clergy in the past. They know what Catholics should believe, they know why Catholics should believe it and they know that it is their job to get we ordinary folks in the pews to see and understand and join in the mission.
There was a time when the Church’s message was warmly greeted by the western world at large. These men know that this time is over. They know that their task is the salvation of souls and whether their individual role is in teaching, administration, public preaching or one-on-one conversation, they aim to go about their work and to help clean up the messes they have inherited.
I realize that four young men in the midwestern US will not solve everything that ails the Catholic Church these days. But they are a start, and a good one. They give me a kind of hope that I and so many others need desperately.
It has become common in my part of the country to, when encountering a current or past member of the military, thank those people for their service. I now realize that these young men are signing up for a lifetime hitch which will involve fighting a war of a different sort.
These men will not only be fighting against the evil which has been in the world from its beginnings, but against evils within the Church that absolutely must be eradicated to the maximum extent possible.
In the 1980s the U.S. Marines said that they were looking for a few good men. The Catholic Church (and the Dominican Order within it) are doing the same today. I can say with confidence that they have found some. And I thank them for their service.
Opening photo by the author, all rights reserved
Photo of the interior of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, River Forest, IL as found on MapQuest
Congratulations to your son, Mrs. JPC, and you! Having met your son late last summer, and the remarkable sense of peace and inner strength he possesses, he will be an outstanding Dominican.
Thank you! He does indeed possess many traits that the rest of us would all do well to cultivate. We should be doing an ordination in two years, which will probably fly right by.
Pretty much all of the younger members I have met have been outstanding men who are just what we need these days. Which is not to denigrate those who have kept their heads on straight and done a lot of good work in previous years. It is a shame that some have screwed things up for everyone else.
+1 congratulations, the task at hand is large indeed.
Having been pipe-organ-ed to near death as a child it is not my favorite instrument, but I do appreciate a well played quality constructed organ in a soaring place of worship.
Oooh, pipe-organed to death – that sounds like something that would have happened to Marty Feldman in a Mel Brooks comedy of the 1970s.
Having grown up Lutheran, the music in a typical-Sunday-Catholic church has been a big let-down. A lot of people tried to make a bunch of “relevant” music in the 80s and it has sort of become like modern “classic rock” stations on the radio. Only instead of Hotel California we get the Greatest Hits from the Gather hymnal.
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Could be worse, doing Hotel California on a cheap pipe organ with an aged organist who has never heard the original.
Let us now turn to Gather hymnal #29, All Who See me Laugh at me….
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Just going to leave this here. 🙂
Good organ music is probably my favorite part of attending a church.
Haha, I had not seen this. Well, at least they played it on the organ.
Great news Jim, I am certain this will deepen his faith, or already has, and will deepen yours as well.
I have found myself trying to pay more attention to the weekly sermons at my parish church, even though they are spoken by English as a Second Language priests, and sometime I only get 1 word out of every 3. A former priest from my church is returning as our new pastor at the end of the month, and he is a fantastic priest, preacher, and friend all in one. It can be very very fulfilling.
As for the music, it should be played and sung with energy and interest, not drawn out as if intended for 33 RPM.
I understand the English-as-second-language thing, as one of our priests is Burmese. He is harder to understand than the one we previously had from Tanzania. I can only imagine how hard it is to preach in a language that is not your main one.
I agree that some energy is called for in the music. However, too often that energy is accompanied by a drum kit, something that never fails to make me grit my teeth. I realize many will disagree with me on this. But I do not care. 🙂
I ask only for an organist or electric piano in church, guitars and drum kits do not belong. This is not a hootenanny. However I do ask that the Gloria be sung such that it is over in less than 5 minutes. Exaggerating but you get the point. Catholics (me anyway) want/need something energetic, something at a non-funereal pace. I have come to understand that each choir director (we have perhaps 5 choirs) has their own style and preference. So I have to figure out what choir is singing at which mass if I want to hear something livelier. However I may not get a choice if I am lectoring at a given time.
My problem is that we like Saturday evening for scheduling purposes, but that’s the one with the drum kit. Waddyagonnado?
Oh come on Lee and JP. I play guitar in church and we do a pretty good job at both praise & worship. The other week we had no pianist so it was just two acoustic guitars. Our worship coordinator told us she got positive feedback, people were surprised we could do hymns. Just have to choose them carefully and arrange them sensitively.
Praise him with stringed instruments!! You guys are both invited to church for some Reformed P&W action next time you’re in town 🙂
“Praise him with stringed instruments”
I recall a number of years ago when we had a parishioner who was a retired professional violinist. Every time he played it was beautiful.
I do not doubt that a guitar can add to worship music. But that has been a rare experience in my world, with most players going instead for electric guitars and uninspiring selections.
Congratulations to your son! I attended a Catholic high school where a number of the science and math teachers were Brothers, but I can’t remember which group they belonged to. They were mostly of Dutch ancestry, and very kind and patient men. Alas, of the mean teacher-nuns, I have no good memories, although two of my great aunts were nuns, who were fun-loving jolly types who taught well into old age. Music at my parish has deteriorated into anemic folk-music, nothing I recognize from the hymns I heard growing up, including the lovely Christmas hymns. I miss those.
Religious brothers and sisters have become rare sights in Catholic schools these days. There were none in the parish grade school my kids attended and maybe two Benedictine sisters in the high school (one of whom made the effort to attend the Chicago profession ceremony). My son first came into contact with the Dominicans through a student ministry they run where he went to college, and finding a place where 4 or 5 habited brothers could be found was a new experience for him. One that made an impression, it appears. 🙂
I would bet that there might be some historical information on your old schools website that might give you a hint as to the brothers’ Order. Some Orders ran high schools, while others taught at schools near their house.
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That’s a good idea….as I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of the name of the order, as one of the brothers who taught math died recently and I read his obituary in the paper. He was such a softie that he gave everyone an A in math (Calculus) and so I went on to first year university where I promptly ended the year with a D in math – my first and only D. So he was probably too kind!
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Thank you, JP. You have shown me a part of life I probably would not otherwise have seen or thought about (not the degradation, which has been all too obvious, but the beauty.) I hope your son and his brother friars find fulfillment in their good works. I am sure he appreciates the support that you are giving him.
Thanks for the supportive response. Someone else who was there remarked to me that all of the friars they met seemed so happy and peaceful. This was something I had noticed too. It is a very different life from what you or I would consider “normal” but it is one that virtually all of them find to be richly fulfilling.
Congratulations to you, to your son, and Mrs JPC.
As a Jew, it’s easier for me to be away from organized religion, but perhaps I can give you some unsolicited advice anyway. You have your beliefs, your values, and your principles, which no doubt have been imbued into your offspring. Those feelings are YOURS. They are not owned by the Church. As terrible and despicable as those deeds were and still are, they were not comitted by you. I might not share your beliefs and dogmas, but DO share your values. Acceptance may come by realizing that those people you might have looked up to, in some cases, are just people subject to all the miseries of life, who will be dealt with either by human or divine justice. You believe in something that’s over that. Mind you, I don’t say you should accept that. But I do say you can be at peace with yourself. As a lawyer, you deal with a side of humanity that might not always be the best.
Again, all the best for you and your loved ones.
Thanks for your considered thoughts. It is sadly true that all of us are subject to temptation or lapses in judgment and few of us would like to see a details review of our lives. The institutional failings would be easier to understand if they had occurred in a financial institution or in a government organization.
To have occurred so routinely in an institution that is supposed to be built around treating one’s neighbor as one’s self has been a challenge. Fortunately the number of bad actors has been small, though the damage done has been great.
beautifully written. “the harvest is great, the workers few…” congrats to you and the wife, and godspeed to your son. may he (and all of us) ultimately be found on the side of god, to repair the world (and the church within it). tikkun olam, as the jewish tradition would say. apparently the orthodox go further with it than just “repair the world,” but also emphasize “ridding the land of all idolatry.” (Rafael, you surely know better than I). so a caution perhaps that we not view the church as god (and therefore idol), but, by his grace, as a humbled yet ever renewing instrument through which humans might continue to seek and find him?
Very nicely said. Thank you!
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