Often when I go to Mass at my parish, I come away with a sense of frustration at the many missed opportunities the pastor and visiting priests pass up in favor of “relevance” or some other passing fad. They too often forget, it seems, that priests are meant to challenge us through their preaching, not coddle us or pat us on the back. During Lent, it would have been nice to hear more about repentance, divine mercy, sacrifice, or anything related to Lent. Rather, it was a pat on the back for giving so much money to the diocesan appeal, it was a children’s Mass so watered down that all flavor was lost. And for what? The spiritual fruit of such preaching is very clear from the parish life: about 50% of people leave after Communion–even on the weekdays. (You have to understand, this parish is overwhelmingly full of retirees. Where do they have to go EVERY morning after the 25-minute 8 a.m. Mass that they need to leave at 8:20?) About 70% back their cars into the parking spots for a quick exit after Mass. The devotional life in the parish is nothing at all. The whole experience is, in a word, dull.
So, some examples of recent missed opportunities this weekend:
1. Ascension: I realize that this is a diocesan decision rather than an individual parish decision, but when the bulletin says and when the pastor announces that “because Ascension is such an important feast,” we are moving it to Sunday, red flags went up. If the Ascension is such an important feast, why does the pope feel the need to keep it on Thursday as a holy day of obligation? Why do most dioceses in the U.S. move the feast to Sunday? Could it be that rather than evangelizing and catechizing people about the importance of the feast, we simply move it so we don’t inconvenience people by having to go to Mass on another day of the week? After all, the people will be there on Sunday anyway, so let’s make it more convenient for them to live out their faith life. Keeping the feast on Thursday might require people changing their schedules, or taking a longer lunch to go to noon Mass, or, God forbid, being put in a situation where they had to explain that they did not do x, y, or z because they were at Mass. People would have to come to grips with being a public Catholic and living out their faith life for all the world to see. But we can’t have that. We would, in America, rather allow people to keep their faith confined to Sundays and not empower them with knowledge and opportunity to transform the world.
2. A visiting priest attempted to speak about St. John’s epistle and the exhortation to love God because God is Love by explaining C.S. Lewis’s distinction among the four loves. Here, there were two distinct missed opportunities. The first: After mentioning eros or “erotic love,” the only explanation was, “Well, you all know what that is about.” I was shocked. Eros is arguably the love that is most perverted and turned toward ends that have nothing to do with real love at all. Eros leads people to use others as objects and feign love–through pornography, contraception, and other means. Erotic love has messed up our culture, our families, and Christian doctrine. It deserved more than a throw-away sentence.
The second missed opportunity here was the priest’s mention of agape or “thanksgiving love.” At no point did he even mention the word “Eucharist,” which, after all, means “thanksgiving.” At a point in a homily about God’s Love for us when he could have talked about Christ’s enduring gift of love in the Eucharist as the re-presentation of His perfect act of thanksgiving on the Cross, we got nothing. No eucharistic connection was made if it even crossed the priest’s mind.
And we sat there, uncatechized and unmoved for another week.