Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Who Are We Worshiping, Exactly?

You'll either love this post or you'll hate it.

And that's okay.

If you don't agree with me, you'll say I'm intolerant (Oh, how that word has been misused lately!) or judgmental.

If you do agree with me, you'll heave a big sigh of relief that someone actually came out and said what I have to say.

It starts out like this: A few years ago I was at a Catholic conference at a hotel. A well-known Catholic priest was there; I won't say who. I will call him Father Famous. He was celebrating Mass. People were pretty excited just to be in his presence. Who wouldn't be; he's an amazing speaker. When you listen to him talk, you are riveted by his stories. He's a very holy, devout priest who is becoming more and more famous every day. And here he was, saying Mass for us! We were in the same room with a celebrity priest! Lucky, lucky us.

And we were lucky (blessed is a word I'd rather use). Earlier in the week, he autographed his book for me. I got my picture taken with him. He gave a wonderful homily at the Mass. Then it was time to go receive Communion.  The lines were confusing, and snaked around this way and that. In the crowded banquet room, we all got into the lanes that made the most sense, not knowing exactly where we were going to end up. As the line moved closer and closer to the front, that's when it hit me: I was in Father Famous's line! I was going to receive Holy Communion from Father Famous! How special this would be! How exciting!

Lord, have mercy.

I look back on that incident now and feel ashamed. Because, you see, it doesn't matter who you receive Holy Communion from.

Let me repeat that. It does not matter who you receive Holy Communion from. 

But I had fallen for the hype. It was Father Famous, after all.

But did I actually think that receiving Communion from him was somehow better than receiving from whoever was dispensing Communion in the other lines? Maybe. Perhaps, at that moment, as my excitement took over, I did.

Ugh. That is so, so wrong.

Jesus was present in the Blessed Sacrament that day, whether it was from Father Famous or the other concelebrant priest or the Eucharistic Minister. Jesus was equally Jesus in that Host.

And I had fallen into the trap of the "Catholic celebrity."

You know the "Catholic celebrity." Yes, you do. Whether it be a priest, an author, a blogger, a broadcaster, it doesn't matter. They're out there. They're doing God's work. They touch a lot of people. They are talented. They make us feel good.

They develop a following. Fans write them. They ask for autographs and pictures. They get spotted in restaurants and at Target. They are famous. They have thousands of Twitter followers who hang on their every word. And without realizing it, we worship them.

Oh, we may not use those exact words. Oh no, we would never idol worship...would we? We're smarter than that. We know it's one of the Big Ten on the tablets. That's not us.

Right?

How about our parish priest? Are we worshiping him?

Something to think about. Many of us are, in a way.

I personally know people who call up their parish offices to see who is officiating for the upcoming weekend. If it's not the name they want to hear, they make other plans. Suddenly it's not about Jesus anymore; it's about who's saying the Mass.

Let's face it; we want Father Interesting there. His homilies are so meaningful. He's friendly. He knows our names.  Is that so wrong?

Well...yes. And here's the reason: We are not going to Mass to be entertained. As lovely as it is to hear a homily that speaks to you in just the right way, and as nice as it is to have the "good" priest at your Mass, we have to always, always remember why we are there. We are there to worship GOD, not Father Interesting.

The Masses of the priests who mumble, ramble, clear their throats, hold little notes in their hands, stay at the podium, walk in front of the altar, have a combover, are handsome, wear glasses, have a big nose, have a chiseled nose, wear contacts, sneeze, or speak with an accent—they are all just as valid as Father Interesting.

Some people put their pastors on a pedestal. A woman I know once told me that when she arrives in her church parking lot on Sunday mornings, if she sees the car of Father Rambler in the parking lot, they move on to another parish for Mass.

Read that sentence again. They MOVE ON.

I was horrified. Yes, in a perfect world, Father Interesting would have every Mass each weekend. We'd all love that. But he can't. He needs assistance. He can't do it all; he'd be exhausted if he tried! And yes, Father Rambler tends to talk too long. Sometimes he doesn't make a lot of sense. His homilies are long. His homilies actually can be good fodder for parental discussion on the way home with their children. He's not our first choice. But he's still a good priest, and he's still providing us with the treasure of the Eucharist. That is all that should matter to us! Look, I realize how a good priest can make us "feel something" after the hour is up. I understand this, believe me.

But my question is this: Are we going to Mass to worship God and receive Him in the Eucharist, or are we going to be entertained and (which makes me cringe) "to get something out of it"? Because if we are going to Mass to be entertained, there is a problem. Of course if entertainment is your goal, yes, you would want to have Father Interesting celebrate your Mass. That's a no-brainer. Faced with the choice of Father Rambles-A-Lot and Father Good-Homily, the choice must be clear, right?

But we are not going to Mass to be entertained! Is it a bonus when you are entertained? Well, I guess you could say so. But the reason—and only—reason you are there is TO WORSHIP GOD. I wanted to tell this to the lady next to me the other Sunday, who, after Father Interesting had given a...well...very interesting homily (of course), leaned over to her teenaged daughter and said very loudly, "That was really good!"

Well, yes. Of course it was really good. ALL of his homilies are really good. But are we at the theater? A performance of some sort? No, we are not. Her commentary, although complimentary and meant to be kind, was completely unnecessary and unbelievably out of place during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Her critique on Father's homily—good or bad—is not required!

Of course, it can work the opposite way. We can rip the priest off of the pedestal we built so quickly it can make your head spin.  A visiting priest filled in one day at our parish. I wasn't there, but a woman and her family who went did not like him. He said some things that she did not agree with. Did she talk to him one on one after Mass, or make an appointment to have a chat to voice her valid feelings?

No. She went on Facebook and trashed his name and the name of the parish he was at that day. Comments poured in, saying things like, "I'm so glad you told me! I'll never go to one of his Masses! I'll stay away from THAT parish." She felt justified, and she did have a point. I didn't like what he supposedly said, either. But does that justify slandering his name all over a social media site? Is that really fair...or the Christian thing to do? Is that charitable? There were many other ways she could have resolved the situation. He had no chance to defend himself. As much as I disliked what he had said in his homily, I lost respect for her that day.

Recently we had a substitute priest say Mass. I liked him. He had a gentle, nice voice and gave a good homily. It wasn't the best I'd ever heard. It went on a little long. But I could tell he was really trying to reach us, to connect with the people. I left the church feeling good..until I heard someone say WITHIN EARSHOT of this fine priest:

"What do you think of that priest? Where's Father Interesting today? This guy rambled. He went on and on! I DIDN'T LIKE HIM AT ALL!"

Quickly, I glanced over at Father. THANK YOU, LORD, that the vestibule was a bit noisy, he was having a conversation with someone, and did not appear to hear.  I felt sick.

I admit to you that, a few years ago, I would have left Mass not saying something so cruel (!!), but at least thinking that the priest was a snore. I would not have been very pleased with just any priest. I would have been disappointed that we had the "boring priest" that day. But God has opened my eyes. Just being at Mass gives us graces! We have received Holy Communion in a state of grace! We have witnessed Heaven on earth, right there on the altar. Who could ask for more?

We need to be very careful about how devoted we become to "Catholic celebrities," no matter what their vocation or job. They write a good blog explaining Catholicism to others—wonderful. They have a meaningful radio show that faithful Catholics adore—keep it up in all humility. They are quality Catholic authors—keep leading people to the Faith with your books. But let us always remember that they are all human beings. They all get indigestion, gingivitis, take their cars in for an oil change, grocery shop, blow their noses, order pizzas, brush their teeth, snore.  Just like the rest of us.

There is no room for a Hollywood mentality in Catholicism.

Let us all remember— "Catholic celebrities" included— that pride goes before a fall. The evil one is just waiting to attack with the sin of pride so that their good works are squashed and no one can benefit from them. I have seen it happen time and time again. They are human, not the Creator of the Universe.

Thank You, Lord, for opening my eyes. I worship You, and You alone.





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