Sunday, February 19, 2006

Feast or Famine

Our parish celebrated the Feast Day of our Patrons, Saints Cyril and Methodius, today with Sunday Mass followed by a Procession and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for forty hours until Tuesday evening, the actual Feast (February 14). This is our 125th year as a parish so this day also commenced preparation for our jubilee celebration on October 1st. A poorly attended carry-in dinner followed the Mass after which one of our long-time parishioners and Pastoral Council Members made a short presentation requesting memorabilia for the celebration.

Several guests at the dinner voiced memories of their days in our Catholic School which unfortunately closed in the 1970's. Some spoke about the nuns and their strict forms of discipline. We boys who lived through those days remember having our caps flung from our heads whenever we forgot to remove them upon entering church. We did not dare talk in church or misbehave in any manner. Even coughing warranted a reprimand. Eyes remained straight ahead and hands were folded in prayer position.

When a special event took place back then, much preparation took place. If a Forty-hours devotion were to occur, a number of altar boys would be selected and sent to the church to rehearse with the priest. Each boy knew his job and the liturgy would be practiced until everyone got it right. The celebrations were solemn and reverent with few distractions despite the complexity of movement. Not only were the school children quiet and well-behaved, so were their parents. The church was packed for these occasions as everyone understood the significance. During Eucharistic Adoration, altar boys in cassocks and surpluses knelt before the Blessed Sacrament during the daytime, and adult men tended overnight. As I reflected memories, I began to understand the reason for behavior I had witnessed after Mass today.

After the final blessing, Father announced that we would be processing with the Blessed Sacrament followed by singing the Tantum Ergo at the beginning of our Adoration time. He encouraged parishioners to join in the procession. Four young girls were altar servers today. It seems like only a few boys remain as active servers, but none of them were present for this special occasion. Father went through the motions of incensing the Monstrance on the altar although it did not appear that the servers had remembered to light the charcoal. The Cross and candle bearers led the procession at a pace much too fast for any semblance of solemnity. By the time about five people bothered to join the procession, the servers had already lapped half way around the church leaving them far behind.

At the completion of the procession, Father placed the Monstrance on the altar and we sang the Tantum Ergo, in English of course, because Father does not want us to sing anything in Latin. Somehow, it does not seem as reverent that way. Father then led a few prayers and after a moment of silence, he and the servers departed in silence to the Sacristy. At that point, parishioners got up and started chatting loudly in the aisles, choir members doing the same in the loft. Three parishioners tried to maintain concentration in prayer. The din continued for about ten minutes or more. A group of about six or seven stood in the center aisle conversing aloud, completely oblivious to the exposed Blessed Sacrament or those kneeling in adoration.

We are being given a precious forty hours of quiet time to interact with Our Lord and Savior in His house. If some would prefer to use this time interacting with someone else, they should do so in someone else's house. Unfortunately, very few realize who is before them. The few who understand are often those who lived through the discipline of Catholic schooling. There are exceptions, of course, but we may be experiencing the effects of a lack of Catholic education. That education, and the occasionally stern discipline that accompanies it, now must begin at the pulpit.

A sign up sheet was left in the rear of the church where parishioners could select times for adoration. The Blessed Sacrament should never be exposed unattended out of respect for Our Lord. If everyone understood His Presence, this would never be a problem. There would be lines up and down the sidewalks. While most of the daytime hours were filled, many names were repeated on the list. The vast majority of the parishioners are not willing to give an hour of time to Our Lord. One would think organizations such as the Knights of Columbus would stand guard for Eucharistic Adoration, but their numbers with a few exceptions were notably absent, as were members of other church organizations.

Being alone at night in front of the Blessed Sacrament allows much time for contemplation. In a parish of hundreds of families, why am I the only one here right now, I wondered. There are parishes that sustain perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, yet we could get enough people to spend Forty Hours. In fact, our adoration period ended up being about 35 hours due to lack of participation. The implications of this are troubling. Ponder the message we send in blowing off an opportunity to kneel in adoration. Jesus, I do not have time for you. Instead of spending an intimate hour of meditation in Your Presence, I would prefer to watch television. I went to Mass on Sunday. That's enough. I worked hard today. I'm tired.

Worst of all, we pass this indifference on to our children. Mom and Dad aren't going, so it must not be important. It is much too easy to submerse ourselves in the daily routine of secular life without setting aside time to accept the graces God has set aside to sustain us. If we do not properly instill our Catholic Faith in our children, they may never rediscover it on their own unless a personal crisis someday interupts their routine, causing a change in direction. Many personal problems are caused by choosing instant self-gratification over moral righteousness. Living a spiritual life can help us avoid life-altering mistakes.

Our parish is suffering from spiritual malnutrition. During the Pastoral Council member's presentation, he mentioned the fact that he had been a parishioner here for more than sixty years, about half the time our parish had been in existence. He also mentioned that we need to record the history of our parish during this 125th anniversary year since many of us won't be around for the next anniversary in 2031. He failed to mention the realistic possibility that our parish will not exist 25 years from now if we don't get our spiritual priorities in order.