Sunday worship in the time of pandemic

Not that it’s anybody’s business but God’s, but it dawned on me that one could ask: Why do you opt to view Mass from home on Sundays rather than attend in person, but you’re okay with going into restaurants, a Pilates studio, and even a museum occasionally?

I’ve thought about this a lot. And I don’t emerge from this guilt-free. I get that it is incongruous to be unwilling to go to church yet be willing to go out to these other relatively less important places. The possibility of infection is only a small part of why we remain home Sunday mornings.

The truth is, if it was just me, I’d likely be more inclined to go to Mass. (I haven’t received the Eucharist since my November retreat. And it kills me to think about it.) But I have to consider my daughter, who is preparing for confirmation and reception of Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

My Episcopal and Anglican friends, having been part of F’s First Communion celebration at our former Episcopal parish a couple of years ago, would be horrified and indignant that our Roman parish’s pastor decided F would have to wait and prepare another 2 years to begin receiving the Eucharist again. But that is what we have agreed to do. F agreed to go through 2 years of CCD – asking to do this first year remotely, rather than in person – rather than try to rush the process by going through, say, a year of RCIA with older people or even periodic meetings with the pastor. Our pastor gave F those options, and she opted for the 2-year deal.

But, my Episcopal and Anglican friends would insist, our former parish was “Catholic,” and the longtime rector there taught that the Episcopal Church is on equal footing with Rome insofar as the sacraments go. This teaching helped me feel better about being at the Episcopal parish, where I was very happy for a number of years, because I knew in my heart of hearts that I was Catholic, and this place – back then, before that rector retired – was in many ways more “Catholic” than a lot of Roman parishes I know. (This was before my husband’s annulment gave me the opportunity to return to Rome, which is a subject for a future post.)

Despite that rector’s contention, however, and the informal agreement of many Roman Catholic clergy with that idea, this is not what the Church – that is to say, Rome – officially teaches. And we are part of Rome now.

F and I had attended Mass at a couple of different Roman parishes since leaving our old Episcopal parish, and F dutifully would join the Communion line, arms crossed, to receive a blessing. There were several times when eucharistic ministers didn’t know what to do with a tween who wasn’t receiving; confusing scenarios would ensue, and they became increasingly awkward. When the pandemic dispensations came down that allowed us not to worry about our Sunday Mass obligation, I was relieved that F didn’t have to go through such awkwardness for a while.

After churches shut down, I set up our own home liturgy each week, based on the Sunday rubrics – the Sunday readings and many of the Mass prayers, up to the Eucharistic celebration, obviously – and wrapping up with our own intercessions and the prayer of Spiritual Communion, plus the Hail Holy Queen and prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. We continued with this even after we returned to in-person Mass for a bit.

When we started going back to Mass after churches reopened, things became even more awkward; the kabuki-like processes involving hand sanitizer and masks complicated things, and both priests and eucharistic ministers became even more befuddled by a non-receiving kid. After several Sundays of this, I finally decided we would remain at home on Sundays. F seemed relieved.

Nowadays, we pray through our home liturgy together before CCD; after CCD, we usually view the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral. At the very least, this gets F acclimated to the words and routine of the Sunday liturgy without either the distractions that come with in-person worship or the anxiety that comes with awkward Communion line situations.

It can be laborious sometimes, putting together the home liturgy, but reading and praying through the process has been an enlightening and fruitful experience for me. I’m grateful for it, and F seems to appreciate the intimacy of praying through it together as well.

So, no, we’re not attending Sunday Mass these days. The pandemic dispensations remain, so we are okay as far as the Church is concerned. And until the dispensations are lifted, I’m going to forge ahead this way with my daughter.

I can never decide how I feel about local sports references being inserted into the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral. But this time, I approve of the assisting priest’s mask.

I went through Lent, and all I have is this lousy angst

It’s Holy Week. And once again, I arrive at this moment realizing that I suck as a Catholic.

Except for some reading I actually accomplished, Lent was a dismal failure. I haven’t been to Mass once, and it looks like I won’t be hitting the confessional until after Easter. I think about God a lot, and I pray each night with Frannie, but my rosary beads have largely gone untouched. I’ve been cranky about the Church, and anything that smacks of traditional Catholic practice or belief leaves me guarded in case it’s linked to some kind of scary far-right extremism.

So, I gravitate to my old comfort zone of moderate evangelicals and Catholic voices like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Fr. Jim Martin, and Franciscan Fr. Casey Cole. My media consumption veers sharply away from EWTN and Relevant Radio now, and more toward America and U.S. Catholic magazines. It feels like the more outspokenly traditionalist and more-orthodox-than-thou the voice is these days, the more likely the voice belongs to angry people who hate the current pope and/or hold frightening views on COVID-19 vaccines, political conspiracy theories, and policies that support the common good.

So much for gravitating back to basics this Lent and getting to know Jesus again. There is that – but then I think, Jesus, have you even met these people?

(Yeah, I know: He has. And yeah, I know: They need His mercy as much as I do.)

Between the pandemic that still scares me from Mass and the divisive politics in the Church today, I feel a lot farther from Rome than ever.

Eve Tushnet, on today’s news out of the Vatican: “The Church can guide our loves. But nobody’s gonna trust Her if Catholics focus on protecting doctrines and ignore the need to defend people. Jesus defended the woman taken in adultery before he said anything at all to her … this is the right order of priorities.”

An early birthday present

A birthday gift that I really needed arrived in the wee hours, as I was attempting to fall asleep with a lectio divina meditation via the Hallow app: a reading of Psalm 27.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
When evildoers come at me
to devour my flesh,
These my enemies and foes
themselves stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart does not fear;
Though war be waged against me,
even then do I trust.

One thing I ask of the Lord;
this I seek:
To dwell in the Lord’s house
all the days of my life,
To gaze on the Lord’s beauty,
to visit his temple.
For God will hide me in his shelter
in time of trouble,
He will conceal me in the cover of his tent;
and set me high upon a rock.
Even now my head is held high
above my enemies on every side!
I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and chant praise to the Lord.

Hear my voice, Lord, when I call;
have mercy on me and answer me.
“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”;
your face, Lord, do I seek!
Do not hide your face from me;
do not repel your servant in anger.
You are my salvation; do not cast me off;
do not forsake me, God my savior!
Even if my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me in.

Lord, show me your way;
lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not abandon me to the desire of my foes;
malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me.
I believe I shall see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord, take courage;
be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!

(Psalm 27 [NABRE])

At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“Let the day of my birth be erased,
and the night I was conceived.
Let that day be turned to darkness.
Let it be lost even to God on high,
and let no light shine on it.
Let the darkness and utter gloom claim that day for its own. …
Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb,
for letting me be born to see all this trouble.

“Why wasn’t I born dead?
Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? …
Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace.
I would be asleep and at rest. …
For in death the wicked cause no trouble,
and the weary are at rest. …

“Oh, why give light to those in misery,
and life to those who are bitter? …
Why is life given to those with no future,
those God has surrounded with difficulties? …
What I always feared has happened to me.
What I dreaded has come true.
I have no peace, no quietness.
I have no rest; only trouble comes.”_

(Job 3:1-5a, 10-11, 13, 17, 20, 23, 25-26 [NLT])

Why do I post and tweet more lately on social media about baseball than about church stuff?

It dawned on me: I want to post about things that make me happy.

Baseball these days makes me happy. Church stuff, with all the Catholic infighting and anger and holier-than-thou crap, does not.

One of the few things I’m accomplishing so far this Lent is reading through the Gospel of Mark (using the Message translation).

Granted, Mark is the shortest of the Gospels, so getting through it is really nothing to brag about. That said, Mark’s brevity belies its substance as a rich and vivid portrait of Jesus; it’s exactly what I needed this season.

I found out recently about Michael Pakaluk’s “new translation” of Mark, “The Memoirs of St Peter,” and bought a barely used copy; it arrived today. Only recently did I learn that church tradition holds that Mark, a follower and “interpreter” of St Peter, generally reflects the apostle’s narrative of the life of Christ. After reading an excerpt online of Pakaluk’s book, I was hooked. I look forward to tearing into it after I finish the Message version of the Gospel.

Totally.

Nothing says “holy Catholic witness” on social media like using your Instagram account to call out people as “heretical donkey clowns.” 😐

#FastingFromCatholicFarRightSocialMediaForLent

Stripping away the anger and frills for a basic -- but late -- Lenten start

It’s taken a while, but I think I’m finally on the Lenten train.

The divisive, angry wing of the Church – the one that increasingly condemns Pope Francis, holds up the Latin Mass over even reverent vernacular Mass as the optimal (if not the only true) liturgy, considers abortion the only pro-life issue that matters, and traffics in conspiracy theories and far right politics – has left me thoroughly disgusted. Unfortunately, that wing has touched “mainstream” Catholic sources, including some I had followed semiregularly (like EWTN, Relevant Radio, and Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire operation); even the Catholic bookstore that has been a mainstay for me has fallen to it. So, I’ve had to cull the spiritual supports in my social media and reading to ease the rage that has blinded me for weeks.

I don’t agree with everything that lives at the center-left end of the Catholic spectrum, especially some of the more New Agey spots (cough – Richard Rohr – cough) where it veers from orthodox theology. But the vindictive, holier-than-thou far right spirit that has clouded my vision lately is notably absent, and I feel like I can see God again.

Anyway, so much has clouded my spiritual vision that Fr. Daniel Horan’s suggestion to “go back to basics” for Lent really spoke to me. I’ve gone with one of Fr. Horan’s ideas for the season:

Why not set aside some time each day during Lent to read a portion of the Bible, perhaps start with one of the Gospels and read, reflect and pray with the passage? If we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, sayings and narratives we thought we understood could inform or challenge us in new and timely ways.

So, I’ve been spending some quality time with the Gospel of Mark, using The Message paraphrase of the Bible. It’s been deeply absorbing and eye-opening, more than I expected. It is awfully refreshing to strip away all the ritual, relatively peripheral devotions, church politics, culture wars, and theological preening, and get to the basis of Christianity: Jesus himself.

From there, I’ve only taken up a few other things for Lent:

  • Read and reflect on two other books this season: “Learning to Pray” by Fr. James Martin and “The Hidden Power of Kindness” by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik.
  • Give up YouTube binging on mindless, time-wasting entertainments like “Big Bang Theory” clips.
  • Avoid constant indulgence in news – stop constantly checking the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other such sites – especially stuff that leads to anger, gossip, and detraction.
  • Avoid gossip and detraction. This goes for work and home conversations about everything and everybody: news figures/celebrities; colleagues; friends, acquaintances, and neighbors; church people; and each other. Change the subject when others try to draw me into such chatter. (I have already failed at this numerous times since Wednesday.)
  • I had a semi-grand idea to forego VitaminWater Zero for the season and set aside my spending on that for alms, but I’ve already failed at that. I’ve given up there and I’m just setting aside alms for the archdiocesan COVID-19 relief effort and our local food bank.

Usually I get ambitious about things like Lent. This year, I’m too tired to be ambitious: tired of religion (but not God), tired of the pandemic, tired of life. If only a few steps – beginning with getting reacquainted with Jesus – can rebuild my spirit even a little, I will be overjoyed.

A weirdly Chicago moment: viewing the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral and finding Bulls announcer Chuck Swirsky handling lector duties.

I know yesterday was Ash Wednesday.

Finally had some time to reflect on the Lenten season ahead. It’ll be another day or two before I write about it. A “hot take” on a holy time is not something to strive for.

Starting Lent without a “Bang”

It’s the eve of Ash Wednesday, and I still haven’t nailed down how I’ll observe Lent.

I did spend some time this afternoon tinkering with YouTube to remove suggestions for “Big Bang Theory” clips from my feed there. It dawned on me recently that I’ve frittered away an awful lot of time the past few weeks mindlessly clicking on “Big Bang” clips to distract me from my various anxieties. The show has become comfort food for me, with particularly empty calories. And I’ve gained a lot of suffocating weight.

So, I’m done with “Big Bang” on YouTube for Lent. There’s that. It’s not much. But it’s a start.

CCD was canceled today; the schedule conflicted with a medical appointment for the teacher.

Given my mindset lately, part of me was kind of relieved. But it’s also unfortunate to not have church class for F just before Lent starts.

Lent is coming, and I’m frankly not very excited about it. Disenchanted with a lot of Church-related things right now. But not necessarily with God-related things. There’s a bit of a difference, as far as I’m concerned.

The Catholic far right has ruined a lot for me. Tired of it.

Biden: The lesser of two "bad Catholic" evils?

Outside the pope and God himself, I don’t know if anybody really has the right to call anyone a “bad Catholic.” (That said, I am the first person to call myself one.) But Fr. Whitfield makes some very good points in his piece:

Biden, undoubtedly, represents a highly educated but poorly catechized, barely converted, cultural Catholicism, formed quite nobly but equally vaguely by a faint account of social justice but which is as substantially Catholic as having once gone to parochial school or Notre Dame. Which is to say, very little. Yet it is a bad Catholicism that differs from another bad Catholicism, a religion itself deformed, principally economically. These, of course, are the bad Catholics of the political right, but who didn’t win. …

… as we welcome this new president, we shouldn’t make much of his Catholicism. Biden shouldn’t make much of it himself; but instead, like me and his fellow bad Catholics, work out his own salvation in fear and trembling. It’s also why Catholics must resist the cheap identarian pride of having a co-religionist in the Oval Office. That, and because the religious veneration of politicians always deforms the venerators. Of this we have had enough.

I am definitely to the right of Biden on the abortion issue. (I’m not sure what Fr. Whitfield is talking about when he mentions Biden’s “willful refusal to embrace the integral moral vision Catholicism describes,” but I’m willing to find out and explore what that means.) I wish he didn’t feel the need to ditch what had once been a clearer-cut opposition to abortion for the sake of political viability.

That said, I appreciate the breath of fresh air that is Biden’s clearly deep and sincere faith, however “poorly catechized” it might be. (I cringed when he mused at tonight’s COVID-19 memorial about “if there are angels in heaven.” A lame, tossed-off line, probably, but still.)

If I agree with Fr. Whitfield on anything, it’s the point about resisting “cheap identarian pride” – something that I am guilty of in recent weeks – about having a fellow Catholic in office. It’s that kind of ideological and allegedly faith-based pride that fueled the Trump train for years. (”Baby Christian,” my ass.) If we’re looking for role models to emulate, best to look to the saints and not, say, politicians.

This weekend’s Sunday Mass video from Holy Name Cathedral opened with one of the few contemporary Catholic hymns I actually like: “Here I Am, Lord.”

The hymn reminded me of when I drove 3 hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, to see Mother Teresa speak in 1995. The song was featured after her talk at the Charlotte Coliseum, and I remember weeping throughout.

I was thrilled to find Mother Teresa’s talk on YouTube. I look forward to viewing it again; I confess that I was so absorbed in the moment and the experience of seeing a living saint that I only remember a small handful of snippets from it (namely where she spoke up against abortion and pleaded to give her a child poised to die in a clinic). So delighted to be able to see her speech again and actually listen closely.

Right-wing extremists destroy the Church

So, I ended up on some right-wing Catholic organization’s mailing list and got a magazine in my mailbox today. Between the articles and the accompanying letter listing in detail the way the current pope is destroying the Church (not to mention the world), I was done with this mailing in all of 2 minutes.

I took the letter (addressed to “Mr. Joyce Garcia”) and promptly scribbled, “PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM YOUR MAILING LIST” across the top, added the postscript “God bless Pope Francis,” signed it MS. Joyce Garcia, and put it in the included envelope — with my own stamps so I pay for my own enraged reaction — for mailing tomorrow.

(I think I also tucked into the envelope the little form they included to accommodate banking information to allow them to siphon donations from a bank account.)

Look, I may have my differences with the present pope (as I have with every pope of the past several decades), but the level of vitriol and calumny leveled against him is out of control. And calumny and its sister sin, detraction, are cut from the same cloth of evil. Both are sins when directed against anybody, but especially against the Holy Father.

The Church has enough problems without having to deal with divisive conspiracy theorists among its members spewing rage and hate.

At the end of the prayer of Spiritual Communion, the priest in today’s video Mass from Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago added, “And may the Bears beat the Packers.”

I’m not sure that’s what St. Alphonsus Ligouri had in mind when he composed that particular prayer.

Our parish has confession time for the CCD kids Saturday morning. Time to help F brush up on the sacrament. Hoping that starting with this video – a light, kid-friendly skit that is more endearing than I’d expect an “SNL” bit about confession to be – makes that process less daunting.

Joined Frannie yesterday for her CCD homework: Watch the 2012 film “For Greater Glory,” a drama about the Cristeros uprising to fight Mexico’s violent crackdown on the Catholic Church in the 1920s.

I was iffy about the idea of a 12-year-old watching a bloody 2.5-hour tale of martyrdom. But this one was a deeply affecting, powerful story of faith that was worth every minute of viewing. ¡Viva Cristo Rey!

Today’s Google search, crux of agonizing soul-searching, and journal prompt: “How Catholic do I have to be?”

Taking another stab at a faith community online

Created a new faith-based Twitter list of only nuns, consecrated virgins, a handful of priests and bishops, and maybe a layperson or two. This is in an effort to build an online Catholic community of prayer I can tap that isn’t cliquish or politically charged. Most online priests are awfully mansplainy, overly opinionated, and far more full of themselves than the nuns, I’ve noticed. Too many priests and bishops on social media leave me disheartened and deeply annoyed.

I’m still craving a sense of religious community that I left when I returned to Rome. Diocesan Catholic culture is bereft of coffee hours and bonding among parishioners, especially in this time of pandemic. It’s clear that individual Catholics have to build that sense of community themselves, which explains in part why I see a lot of effort to bond among folks in the world of #CatholicTwitter.

That effort, for me, is undermined these days by the QAnon Catholic conspiracy theorists who are dividing the American Church. I destroyed a previous faith-based Twitter list because too much political and conspiratorial uproar was infiltrating the conversations.

The minute I see any political tweets or supportive retweets from the likes of the Daily Caller, Trump, Catholic extremists like Taylor Marshall or the Church Militant crowd, or any number of right-wing (or far left) sources, I’ll 86 the list member. I’m disheartened enough by the secular political climate; I’m trying desperately to maintain a sense of hope and civility about my Church. And so far, I’m not doing very well.