Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why I lament ridicule of, "Happy-Clappy" Catholics

Greg Motyka at the Corpus Christi Watershed site (a great place to learn about and hear chant, BTW), has a great post up: Every Moment is a Teachable Moment.  He helps us to understand that the many liturgical offenses we see are not quite what we may think.  I've been wanting to convey something similar for some time, and this provides a good opportunity to open the discussion.

Any time we have some sort of interior conversion, we can fall into the trap of seeing the same faults or defects we once likely had, in others.  The old saying among smokers is, "there's nothing worse than an ex-smoker," holds true in other things too.  In speaking of the problems of beginners, St. John of the Cross, discussing spiritual wrath points out in Chapter 5 in the first book of the Dark Night of the Soul:

2. There are other of these spiritual persons, again, who fall into another kind of spiritual wrath: this happens when they become irritated at the sins of others, and keep watch on those others with a sort of uneasy zeal. At times the impulse comes to them to reprove them angrily, and occasionally they go so far as to indulge it and set themselves up as masters of virtue. All this is contrary to spiritual meekness

Fr. Perrone, a diocesan priest who himself is also a secular Carmelite, and chaplain to the community which meets at Grotto, spoke about something similar in last week's homily, which dealt with spiritual pride.

Being a "beginner" in the context used by the great Carmelite saints ought not be confused with book knowledge.  There is a distinction between a catechetical or theological beginner, and a spiritual beginner.  Even a theologian with advanced degrees can be in the stage of a spiritual beginner, and remain there until death.

Now, let's talk about "Happy-Clappy Catholics"

When I first began to take my faith seriously again in 2005 and got a better understanding of worship, I became strident about liturgical imperfections which became  visible to me (a perfect example of what St. John describes above). I used offensive terms like, "Happy-Clappy Catholics" to describe others who hadn't yet crossed the liturgical divide.  I'm not talking about the Traditional Latin Mass, but about the basics of Catholic worship in general - whether in the new Mass or the Usus Antiquior - everything from the music to posture and other behaviors while in church.

I was at Mass at a parish other than my own a couple of years ago when I saw an altar boy, during the Eucharistic prayer, chuckling and looking back at his father, who was also chuckling, about a modest, "oops" by the organist just before the Sanctus.  That was a turning point for me.  Interiorly, I was spitting nails. It wasn't a momentary thing; it lasted up to Communion, and I think after. The disquiet was great.  Suddenly, sadness and mercy entered my heart as I had flashbacks to my own behavior, partly stemming from ignorance, just a few years earlier.  Only by the grace of God could I then bow my head and say: "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do."  I didn't fully understand it all yet and it would give me something to ponder for weeks, months, and still today.  I do this any time I see such things now.  I now understood that the boy and his father, like me, were products of an era where basic catechism focused on self-esteem, rather than teaching esteem for the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord.  We were taught, even if only indirectly, that the Mass was a celebration of "us." I even pondered the priests in the lives of this chuckling father and son, and what kind of shoddy training those priests  must  have had in seminary, that they didn't give people  a better appreciation for what was really happening in the Mass. Compassion and mercy flooded my heart for them too.

I have reverence before the Blessed Sacrament now only because of the gentle example of the priests, religious, and lay people of Assumption Grotto, as well as a noble corp of altar boys.  You might find a strident person here and there, but most are not like that.  All parishes have people with various flaws.  Some people are wounded by the turbulent years following perverted interpretations of Vatican II. This was one point Fr. Perrone hit in that homily: None of us has a monopoly on pain in this regard. You can listen to his homily in the  link I provided earlier,  for context.

When those serving at the altar are well taught, people can learn from them.  This is an area where priests can help - with attention to small details in what happens in the Sanctuary, before, during, and after Mass. I had never seen reverence before. My own transformation didn't happen because people ridiculed me, or because I happened upon a website which ridiculed people like me.  In fact, I might have left the parish and never looked back had I encountered those things there.  It was simply the silent witness of people who knew, intimately, that they were before Almighty God, that made me ponder the  great Mystery.  I now understand Mass is not a celebration of the life of Jesus; rather it is the re-presentation (hyphen added for emphasis) of the Sacrifice on Calvary.
Like many others, the Catholic culture of my youth, taught me that it would be "prideful" to stand out by genuflecting.  The end result was no sign of reverence at all.  This contributed to a deeper problem of not grasping interiorly, that in that Tabernacle was God  - the same God before Whom Moses removed his sandals, and the same God before Whom the magi knelt in adoration when He became Man.

We have to take into consideration that people do not know, what they do not know.  A child who spends 30 minutes in a coloring book, and goes outside of the lines, does not know of the imperfections in his work.  For him, it's a work of art, and a thing of beauty.  He treasures it so much he takes it to his mother and father, who display it proudly on the fridge or in an office cubicle.

I'm not suggesting we should be proud of, or "celebrate," illicit practices and bad behavior at Church; I'm suggesting we need to keep things in context - that people were not just poorly catechized on the faith; they were poorly taught about worship for the better part of 50 years.  For many, it is all they have  known since birth.

I have found that some of the most defensive people are simply passionate because they were taught this way by others who have not been taught well.  There was no internet for people to see what Vatican II said; errors spread by word of mouth and became embedded for decades.  We can't judge the people of yesterday by what is so readily available to us today.  Using stridency and joking at the expense of these people is far from virtuous, and quite God-displeasing because it shows an utter lack of charity.  I'm not talking about militant dissidents, but ordinary Catholics in the pew who probably don't even know a dissident from a faithful Catholic.

The "great" experiment is over. The Church, from Pope Benedict to a growing number of bishops and priests, are beginning to teach the right things.  Some will be resistant because people are naturally resistant to change.  Rapid change now is as cruel to the ignorant today, as rapid change was to those who knew better than the "change-masters" 50 years ago.  Some clerics themselves are still learning, and even unlearning things they were taught in seminaries run amok. I have personally witnessed this transformation in people where I didn't think it was possible. Shame on me for thinking *I* was the primary driver of winning hearts, as opposed to God.   We can do more good by being patient witnesses, giving people room and time to learn, and to make mistakes or not learn everything all on the same day. There is no need for  foaming at the mouth when they go outside the lines.

I learned quickly only by the grace of God; but, for others it's a very incremental process that can take years, and for still others, it may never happen. The spiritual life can grow like individual stocks in the NYSE - a rise, then a pull-back, before another rise, over and again.  Just like some stocks rise and go down, so can spiritual development.  Some crash.  Sometimes external factors are behind pull-backs other times it's internal.  Book knowledge is not the same as spiritual knowledge, so the most book-smart Catholics can be spiritually immature.

I abandoned the strident approach to dealing with these things knowing that it is largely ineffective. I found it pushed people away from wanting to have the discussions with me.  My own discernment of the practice led me to believe it can not only be venially sinful (various forms of spiritual pride are involved), but can lead to grave sin. Some get so angry, they won't go to Mass, or they engage in rash judgment, detraction and calumny (ccc 2477-78).

Calling people names like "Happy-Clappy Catholics" is not only childish and sophomoric; it does nothing to build the Body of Christ.  It builds walls where we should be building bridges.  It is just one more way to yield to concupiscence which would rather have fun at the expense of others.  How much more it offends God when we lead others to join in the fun.

Venting and joking about others, "not in the know" may feel good, but I don't think you will find any of the great spiritual masters encouraging it.  If you want to do something helpful, go before the Blessed Sacrament, or someplace quiet and lay your pain on God's shoulders.  He can handle the weight and all risk of crossing into sinful anger is gone.   Fr. Perrone told me early on when I could not get to Adoration, to close my eyes and put my mind's eye before the Tabernacle closest to me at a given moment, even if it is a few miles way.  What we have to understand is that some things are so big that we cannot force change with our words; but, God can change things with our humble petitions.  It  doesn't come, "on demand,"; it comes on God's time. We may not get to live long enough to see certain changes.  That's okay.  Just keep working.

Confessions are heard at Assumption Grotto on Saturdays between 2:30 and 3:30, and before the 9:30 AM and Noon Sunday Masses.  They are often heard outside of posted hours before the 7:30 AM and 7:00 PM weeknight Masses.  All others, check your local schedule. 

Want to know more about Confession? Let St. Francis de Sales help you.

Note: This post was edited on Feb 7 at 11:30 for grammar and other fixes.  The Confession note was also added after I read a comment.

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