Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Day in the Life

My 16 year old daughter teaches CCD to a very small group of 1st and 2nd graders. Sadly, our parish has a difficult time finding parents who are willing and able to teach religious education classes. My daughter is well versed in the faith for someone her age, and being young herself, seems to be able to hold their attention longer than most adults.

I normally get up early on Sunday mornings to drive my daughter to the church for the 9 AM class. Today, in commemoration of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, our parish was having a Eucharistic Holy Hour between 9 and 10 AM "in respect for the sacredness of all life" as Father stated it in the bulletin. I planned to drive her to her class and remain for Eucharistic Adoration.

As sometimes happens, my daughter and I started off the day on a sour note. She came out wearing a white knee-length knitted camisole over a black v-neck blouse and dark slacks. My daughter and I have clashed over this outfit before. She once wore it to school over a tube-top with spaghetti straps and an exposed belly-button. The open knit is easy to see through, and while the top she wore under it today was not as bad as the tube-top, it still had neckline unsuitable for church and the sub-zero temperatures outside, at least in a father's eyes. Furthermore, she wore her waist-length school letter jacket over the whole ensemble, making a very bazaar fashion statement.

I asked her if she didn't have something else she could wear. She said she did not and reluctantly, I decided to let it go today. Besides, we were about to clash over something else. I asked her whether she was going to take her CCD class to Eucharistic Adoration. She said no. I pointed out that Eucharistic Adoration is one of the most important gifts we have in the Church. "What message do we send to the children when we ignore an opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration?" I asked in a calm voice. With that, my daughter yelled, "Well then, YOU teach them." She stormed into her room and slammed the door. When it came time to leave for church, she refused to ride with me. Instead, she made her brother hurriedly get dressed to take her.

In my daughter's defense, the Holy Hour was not widely publicized beyond a small notice in last week's bulletin. She may not have seen it and didn't realize it would take place at the same time as her class. We all attended the Saturday vigil Mass last evening and Father never mentioned it. I could have suggested she take her students earlier, but it did not enter my mind. It was never my intent to anger her. My question about the message we send to our children was rhetorical. I often wonder what we can do better to catechize our children.

My frustration comes from seeing diminished reverence for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We learned it from our parents, teachers and the example of other reverent Catholics. We genuflected on both knees and bowed our heads during exposition. The Church was filled and the choir sang for Benediction. So much of that is missing now. I acknowledge my own fault in not emphasizing the importance in my own family. I have tried to lead by example, but perhaps that is not enough.

When I arrived about five minutes early for Holy Hour, it had already begun. Despite the published 9 AM starting time, our pastor apparently decided to begin immediately following the 8 AM Mass, probably in an effort to keep more people in attendance. About fifteen people remained in the church and all but one left when the rosary ended about five minutes after nine. Eventually two of the CCD teachers did bring their classes in for adoration. As I watched many of them fidget in the pews, I thought of my Catholic grade school experiences when the Sisters would smack us from behind when our attention wandered.

Not to wander off topic, but nuns get a bad rap. Every Catholic seems to have a horror story about Sister so-and-so beating some poor defenseless child to within an inch of his life. In eight years of Catholic grade school, I remember very few incidents where corporal punishment was unduly applied. Yes, there were times when a child would be grabbed and manipulated into compliance. I don't remember ever seeing a child struck in Catholic School. I do remember more than one instance of students being paddled in public high school back in the 1960's. While I am not advocating undo corporal punishment, we have a serious discipline problem in all areas of education. I believe those who experienced the stern arm of the nuns grew up with much more moral respect than those who did not.

The inattention of the CCD students was a bit of a distraction, but I did not mind. At least they were in there in the presence of God, whether they understood or not. In our present church configuration, the Blessed Sacrament sits rather inconspicuously on the altar with no special lighting or adornment. Prior to the Vatican II remodeling of the sanctuary, bright lights were focused on the monstrance causing the gold and jewels to sparkle, only overshadowed by the bright white host in the center. As children, the spectacle drew our attention. We knew this was something special. Now, the host is eclipsed in shadows much like the new moon, and those in the church often seem oblivious to His presence.

During adoration, our pastor sat in the back of the church for awhile. He also took time to empty the money from the votive stands, put oil in the candle sticks, and interrupt my rosary to give me the organist's W2 form to pass on later. Yesterday, he asked me to prepare our organist for a possible time change for the current 10:30 Sunday Mass. The pastor of our neighboring parish is nearing retirement. Some newly discovered health issues may force this retirement any day now. When it happens, he will not be replaced due to the severe shortage of priests. Our pastor will cover both parishes.

Following Adoration, I spoke with our organist, giving her Father's message. She said the priest at another county parish where she plays earlier Sunday mornings, announced today that their parish and a neighboring satellite church may be closing soon. We could be going from four priests in our county down to two in a very short time.

Why is this happening? Not enough Catholics? No, we have sufficient numbers to sustain all of these parishes. Not enough priests? Yes, but why do we have so few? The real question lies within all of us. Why was our church practically empty today when a parish of several hundred families had an opportunity spend one hour in Eucharistic Adoration? If we truly believe Jesus, our God, our Creator, our reason for existence, is here corporeally in that monstrance to be adored, to hear our petitions, to give us His love, His life and salvation, why isn't the Church filled beyond capacity? When our churches close, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Post Script: This afternoon, I learned of the death of Johnny Carson. I grew up watching the Tonight Show. There were times in my life when I was plagued by severe anxiety that always seemed to rear its ugly head at bedtime. Johnny often became an hour or so of comfort as he could always make me laugh. One secret to his 30 year longevity on the Tonight Show was his knack for being funny when the material was not. When a bit was not going over, he would often pause to read through the rest of the script. Doc Severinsen would play Taps while Johnny set his copy on fire in the wastebasket. If one of the nightly monologues bombed, the piano player would launch into Tea for Two and Johnny would tap dance. I also learned much from watching his program. He was uniquely intelligent and often scheduled serious interviews with interesting guests. There has never been another like him. He was truly the King of Late Night. Thanks, Johnny, for all the laughs. May your soul rest in peace.