Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Assumption Grotto - Observations from the Pew

Something old, becomes something new if you never realized it existed. Having just discovered Assumption Grotto parish in Detroit on Pentecost of 2005, there was a lot I didn't know about the place. The day I walked up the steps, it was just another parish. I had floated to many parishes over the years, always seeming to seek something, but never knowing what it was....... until I discovered it at the Grotto, but it took time to figure out: Solid, orthodox Catholicism, rich in devotion, homilies that preached the fullness of the faith - not just the feel good stuff, and a culture that values reverence and silence in church, and is faithful to the Magisterium . It took a little longer to realize I was attracted also by what this parish didn't have, such as talking in church even outside of Mass, or folk bands. I turned in my guitar for the alto section of one of the finest Catholic music programs on earth singing songs that have been around for centuries.

Keep in mind, I'm not a nostalgic senior longing for what I once had. I was born in 1962, and I feel cheated, to an extent, that I never knew the Mass could be so solemn, and so graceful, lifting my soul in such a way as to discover true worship of God.

Not Your Grandma's or Grandpa's Urban Parish

I thought I would see what I so often have caught a glimpse of in many of the parishes I've walked through - lots of gray hair, and only a handful of young people. Or, as we typically think about urban parishes, a few folk - lifers from the old neighborhood who are still enjoying the close proximity of the church. I often wondered what would happen to our church because some of the parishes were getting so "old". Where were the young people that all of the fanfare and looseness was to draw? All those people on liturgical commissions working diligently to spruce up the one thing that could sell itself with no dressing whatsoever......and where were the youth? The guitars strummed, the drums beat, the banners flew, the sanctuary opened up to swells of lay people and most, but not all, were nearing retirement.

Yet, I found Grotto was well mixed with all ages, and the families were very large for the most part. While Grotto has lots of large families there are some couples who simply cannot have more children, or any children at all. Some of these folks have opened their hearts to kids in need of a home and their joy is readily visible. Others spend time in service of Holy Mother Church in their own way, along with the many singles who make Grotto their home. It's a parish full of life.

Just the Liturgy Please!

The funny part is that you don't have all that tampering with the Mass I just described earlier. The liturgy is simple and a committee doesn't plan it. It happens just the way it is suppose to - no dressing required. In fact, looking back, that stuff just turned me off, even in my younger days. No wonder I had lost interest in the Mass before making Grotto my home. Now I come not to satisfy myself, but to worship God, along with everyone else that is there. Perhaps that explains the profound silence found in parishes such as mine. When we worship God with our entire being, it means we must detach ourselves from the world around us, because nothing, or no one is greater than Him. I can't truly see God in my neighbor until I learn to seek the face of God first and it is so much more difficult with "busy" liturgies.

No Need to Walk on Egg-shells with Moral Issues

In many parishes today, you never know whether the people sitting in the pew next to you are pro-life or pro-choice, and the subject seems undiscussible from so many pulpits today. So, I never talked about it with anyone out of fear I might offend or come across as uncharitable. Talk about getting it backwards! Perhaps my mind was cleared when the priests at Grotto preached about being "open to life". I felt they were more concerned with my salvation than with my self-esteem - something challenging, yet satisfying, and bringing me back for more. I spend a lot of time at this parish and have not yet run across anyone who promotes the idea of women priests, not to mention other more serious issues. People are not confused here, but then again, neither are the priests. They've got "20/20" vision when it comes to church teaching and have no qualms about calling it out as they see it.

It's got to be the first parish in my life where I hear words like chastity, sacrifice, and penance discussed along side charity, mercy, and forgiveness. I nearly fell out of my pew the first time I heard one of the priests talk about chastity because I was so use to homilies that avoided such things. Let's face it, today's priests have their work cut out for them with raunchy commercials, raunchy billboards, ease of access to internet porn and the like. Now is not the time to avoid talk on the 6th and 9th commandments. No wonder people think they are merely the "Ten Suggestions" when we don't even hear frank talk from many pulpits on them. I found it equally refreshing that a priest would actually encourage self-denial of even simple things, just to mortify the apetites and for the practice. After all, if we can tame the lesser apetites, it makes the bigger ones that much easier to tackle. So simple, yet so profound.

The Remedy for a Recovering Catholic

For the first time in my Catholic life, I'm in a Catholic parish, that fully values Catholicism in all its purity and simplicity. Absent are the excuses for blowing off Church teachings in favor of whatever is convenient. It got me to think. It got me to make some big changes. It all made me very happy to follow God with simplicity instead of with excuses. Thank God that priests are so generous with their time in confessionals at Grotto, even going there outside of regular hours when folks are around. People respond readily to a priest in the confessional. I know - I'm one of them. I'll add that they actually encourage coming to confession to work through venial matters, if that is all you have. Such things are not dismissed and I've found there is no finer coach for a Catholic than a confessor with 20/20 vision. With regular lines of very young to very old, on Saturdays and Sundays, this sacrament is inviting as I navigate through my own metanoia.

And, my self-esteem is still very much intact, despite all of the frank talk from the pulpit and frequent trips to the confessional! In fact, it has never been stronger.

Enough said! For now.