Here is a letter I wrote to the editor of the National Catholic Reporter after receiving my second issue from them. It is one issue that weighs heavily on my mind.
(ADDENDUM: THIS LETTER WAS NEVER PUBLISHED BY THE NCR)
“I have been flummoxed by the change I have observed in church liturgy over the last 5 years. This trend was finally named and addressed in the article “North Carolina ‘Church in Exile’ battles “restorationists.” I was both relieved to have it identified and sourced; and panicked that it is widespread. (please see ORIGINAL article from NCR 2-24-17—-3-9-17)
I started a Website to address the disrespect in our Catholic churches in dress, attitude and behavior after a noticeable shift by adults while attending Mass, and in children, who imitate what they see. I observed this in most of the parishes I have visited when I traveled across the country. I addressed it forthrightly with pastors, only to find lackluster responses in understanding or lack of initiative in response. I believe that this decline in behavior and the ”Restorationist” movement may be linked.
I often watch EWTN liturgies and they are liberal in use of incense, extol the virtues of Gregorian chant, use Latin throughout Mass and push the idea with long explanations that these ancient songs and rites are really useful and important.
However well- intentioned these priests may be, they are creating more distance between priest and congregation, form and understanding, to a population just beginning to recover from priest scandals. It only widens the distance, enhances division and leave the problem, at best, untouched. Does the Gospel passage about “widening their phylacteries” give no hint of what the Lord expects?
Priests do need to stand up to the plate and provide true leadership. We need homilies not about theology and abstract concepts but real issues which strengthen us to challenge the cultural dissonance we experience day to day. We need to be drawn to more and better prayer in the language we understand. My parish provides a Spanish language Mass, an Asian Mass and then an English Mass which is said mostly in Latin. (Please help me make sense or logic out of that.)
We need to be challenged if we are rude and disrespectful in our behavior in church, when using cell phones or texting, dressing inappropriately, or allowing our children to disrupt prayer…… not by a notice in the church bulletin, but face- to- face. We need boundaries, empathy, enthusiasm and fervor from our priests…..for it will be contagious.”
(I want to add this thought. I studied Latin in school. It was required. I grew up with the Latin Mass. I understand it a lot better than most Catholics. But ….I do not THINK in this language and consequently, the words of the Mass slide by my brain like a mailman on an ice slick. They are utterances spoken by a priest that are detached from my understanding and therefore from the action of the Mass. Pope Francis understands this. Why do his priests not listen to him?)
And Now: Brother Bruno, OFM, who also goes by Daniel Heisey wrote this on Lent: I really recommend his blog.
At nearly every Christian monastery and convent is a bulletin board on which monks and nuns post prayer requests. Those requests come to the religious community every day, often through friends or relatives of the religious or in the mail from complete strangers. The latter are often anonymous, and the envelopes are addressed simply to the monastery in general.
Some monastic bulletin boards might be arranged in parallel columns according to what spiritual writers classify as the four kinds of prayer: adoration, petition, praise, thanksgiving. All four types of prayer occur during liturgies, but they can occur also during private prayer.
Adoration occurs best in silence, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, and praise occurs often incognito, whenever in the Psalms or elsewhere one finds the Latin word Alleluia, or its Hebrew original, Hallelujah. Both words mean “praise the Lord,” and prayers of praise can become verbal, if not verbose. In contrast, adoration, like losing oneself while gazing into the eyes of one’s beloved, tends to be inarticulate.
Prayers of petition can be subdivided into prayers of contrition, asking to be forgiven, and prayers of intercession, often directed to a particular saint. Best known, of course, is the Lord’s Prayer, containing petitions for our forgiveness, and for a spirit of forgiveness, and for our daily needs.
With petitions and intercessions, a danger arises when someone confuses prayer with magic. At one time or another, we have all slipped into that dangerous confusion. Sometimes one hears a kind of spiritual prescription, what sounds like a pious statement, but is really the opposite: Say this prayer three times to, for example, Saint Paphnutius, because he never fails to give you what you want. Say the magic word, get a special prize.
This form of piety reduces not only the saints but also prayers of petition and intercession to the level of a child asking Santa Claus for a new toy. On the surface, such prayers seem like folk piety, admirable in itself, provided it conveys the truth. However well-intended, when such piety veers into the land of lucky charms, it leads away from the truth.
As a result, this approach to prayer leads to disillusionment. Despite thrice-daily repetition of the same never-fail prayer to Saint Paphnutius, nothing has happened. It then becomes easy to conclude that prayer doesn’t work. It is the same disappointment and frustration resulting from a certain kind of failed commercial transaction: When you keep putting in coins, and nothing comes out of the vending machine, eventually you decide to give up.
Either you then reconcile yourself to not having the goody from the vending machine, or you turn to a different vending machine that seems to work. Likewise, a Christian can become fatalistic, resigned to life being broken, or can look far and wide for just the right spiritual fix. Alternatively, the disillusioned Christian decides that vending machines, like slot machines, are for gullible, and probably obsessive, fools who don’t realize that they are wasting their time and money. Disillusionment leads to deciding that there is no Saint Paphnutius, no Santa Claus, and having outgrown such childish beliefs, the newly enlightened Christian finally decides that there is no God.
After many years in a monastic community, one pattern emerges from all these prayer requests: All are prayers of petition. They include prayers for a healthy pregnancy, for a successful operation, for healing a damaged relationship, for finding a job, for the repose of someone’s soul. All are worthy concerns, and the monks are ready to pray for them.
However, never has there been a request for the monks to offer up prayers of thanksgiving. No one has ever asked for prayers to be offered in thanks for a healthy baby, for a successful operation, for a healed relationship, for a new job, for the good example of the faithful departed. Now and then the monks receive a note of thanks for having offered prayers of petition, but thanking the people doing the praying is not the same as asking them to give thanks in prayer.
As the Church prepares for Lent, here is an austere, some might say severe, penance to consider: Outside the Our Father, where we have been instructed to ask also for what we need right now, give up asking in prayer for anything except that God’s will be done. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, petitioning for God’s will to be done runs parallel to asking for God’s reign to govern events here on Earth, just as it does in Heaven. Asking for God to be in control of everything in His creation is far removed from His creatures asking Him to give them the things and situations that they, that we, want.
After all, as has been often said, prayer does not change God, it changes us. Praying for our daily bread does not provide God with new information; it makes us focus on what is important for us in this present moment. Praying for God’s will to be done does not supply Him with a new idea for how to regard all things, visible and invisible. If it happens that the atheists are right when they claim “Prayer is just talking to yourself,” what would be the harm in having spent a life daily desiring that the cosmos not be ordered around one’s own will?
So, for Lent, give up an approach to prayer that treats it like a machine that responds to the right code; give up a spirituality that confuses prayer with rubbing a magic lamp and asking a genie to grant three wishes. Instead, after forty days of wandering in the Lenten desert and saying Thy will be done, forget about making up for lost time by unfurling a pent up list of petitions rooted in one’s own will being done. Rather, go into the dawning joy of Easter quietly praying “Thank you.”