There is nothing worse than being a blogger with writer’s block. I can only compare it to being a surgeon with hand paralysis. There is a panic that you will never do again what you have discerned as the calling from God. You stare at the keyboard the way a surgeon stares at the instruments used in the operating room. Once these tools were utilized with skilled precision, now they are unfamiliar pieces of metal. To me the laptop becomes an awkward, unfriendly apparatus of torture.
The search for inspiration only leads to a labyrinth that confirms you are out of inspiration. Nothing surprises you, piques your curiosity, or excites you. Searching the internet finds endless articles that are the same old, same old. Traditionalists think this way, progressive Catholics feel that, there are too many scrupulous people asking anonymously online if their confessions were valid, and males in their twenties who are addicted to video games and spend hours in their mother’s basement wonder if they are being called to the priesthood – same old, same old.
It is with this lack of direction that I went to daily Mass in our new parish in Illinois. We haven’t formally joined this community since our move six weeks ago because we are technically not in the parish boundaries. However, it is the parish closest to the type of liturgy and quality of preaching we are accustomed to from our previous community in the greater Boston area. Yes, we are what the rest of the American Catholic Church dreads – transplanted Northeast Catholics J
So we arrived. We did not know that the children in the parish school attend Mass – every day. Everyday! Almost unheard of in our former neck of the woods because most parents are concern about time being taken away from education and test preparation. And then the children arrived. Grade by grade they filled the church – all 400 of them! Led by their teachers in their uniforms they filled the benches from kindergarten to Grade 8.
You have to understand that coming from the Archdiocese of Boston that these simple numbers are akin to entering a time warp. Due to demographic changes parishes and schools have closed or merged and families with large children are the exception not the rule. Also the Boston Church, as the ground zero of the abuse scandal, has essentially lost a generation of believers and trust in its moral authority. To be in an area where the Church is growing is a unique, different appearance.
And so Mass began. Watching the children was in itself a living prayer. The eighth graders did the readings – you could tell from the cracked voices. The five-year-olds tried to master genuflecting and several attempts of blessing oneself looked more shooing flies. There were the obligatory nudges by teachers of butts off the benches while kneeling. All of these things brought back memories of my own attending Mass while going to Catholic school – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Perhaps time has erased the latter for I remember those Masses with fondness. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were the days of being introduced to the new Mass, hymns that were played on guitar, a moral imperative against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, students participating in the Mass – even as nuns used their clickers, led us in grade by grade, and gave those nudges to move your butt off the bench. Those days are often maligned now, especially by the pseudo-traditionalists whose think that everything in the Church was bad before the papacy of St. John Paul II. Were they extremes and people who went “off the rail”? Of course, but name a movement in the Church that has not had its fringe. But they were also the days when the average person in the pew really believed the Church when it proclaimed in its documents the Church is the People of God. This optimism, this faith, became ingrained in us and for one brief moment Everyday Catholics saw great possibilities in their Church and for their Church.
Those children at Mass today don’t know it, but they gave me hope once again in the Church. Among the fidgeting, the yawning, and the prayers was hope in its purest form. “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; … it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1818)
And with that hope I write again. In one of her earlier hits the late Whitney Houston sang “I believe that children are our future.” Thank you, children of St. Bridget’s School of Loves Park, Illinois. Today you made it easier to pray with St. Theresa of Avila “Hope, O my soul, Hope.”
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