Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Catholic Church Shopping Part VII

The next place I visited was a 101 year old church in an old section of Staten Island whose many well-preserved buildings give the place a late-19th century atmosphere. The church was absolutely gorgeous and looked like it had been built yesterday. I expect that there had recently been a lot of money expended to gussy the place up. Since it was named after one of the most popular Italian saints and was located in a heavily Italian neighborhood, I was surprised to see so many Polish names on the stained glass windows as well as a Polish-American pastor. A relatively small church, it was filled with over 100 people at a noon Mass.

Most of the people entered their pews with the sadly familiar one-quarter genuflection and the sign of the blob. The "choir" consisted of one young lady who sang syrupy modern hymns to the accompaniment of a guitar. Her voice was fine, but the effect was that of listening to a minstrel at a Renaissance Faire. I almost expected her to break into "tra-la-la" and "hey nonny nonny" at any moment. There was no way I was joining in such an effeminate sing-along, especially since NO ONE else in the entire church was singing, except for a few older women under their breath.

The priest was a stocky middle aged man who rushed through the Mass in 35 minutes with the tone and attitude of a bored telemarketer reciting the same sales script for the thousandth time. The readings and Gospel received the same treatment, and he even opted (no surprise) to use the "short form" of St. Paul's famous analogy about how the body of the Church has many parts. As an aside, I ask again- WHY do we even have a short form of Bible readings??? Are we Catholics so impatient to get out of church that we must truncate the Word of God, just so we can leave 30 seconds sooner? This is pure insanity.

As for the sermon, it was obvious that the priest fancied himself something of an intellectual, as he quoted Alan Bloom, Machiavelli, cited a wide range of historical incidents, introduced philosophical conundrums and enlightened us with current Biblical historiography. Unfortunately, his rambling disquisition lacked any coherence or relevance and, like most Catholic sermons, was vague, nebulous, disjointed, superficial and thus completely useless and discouraging.

He began by bemoaning the modern embrace of cultural relativism, which has the effect of breaking down any notion of good and evil. If all cultures are equal, then what would we do if we were the British governor of India and witnessed a Hindu widow about to engage in suttee? Or, in another example, if the U.S. lost the War of 1812, what would we do if we were the British governor of a conquered South Carolina and witnessed blacks being bought and sold? We have to believe in objective truth, Father declared, or else we would have to tolerate these evils! He then went into a bizarre digression about the lives and careers of the 4 Evangelists. (According to him, Mark was always getting rejected by the Apostles, like a little brother). His point, I think, was that the miracles of Jesus were witnessed and objectively attested and thus we should realize that Faith is not a blind leap but a logical extrapolation from the facts. Great point. But what did all these discombobulated ideas amount to? The assertion that there is objective truth? That Jesus Christ performed miracles? For crying out loud! Why would you waste your time arguing these basic truths to a group of people sitting in church worshipping Jesus Christ????? These truths are so so obvious that it is almost insulting to actually give a sermon on the topic. If they are mentioned at all, it should only be as the basis of a sermon on much deeper subjects. We wouldn't be here if we thought that Jesus was a fictional character! We wouldn't be here if he thought that there was no objective truth! We are neither atheists nor 5 year olds! On what planet do our priests live??? What kind of Catholics do they expect to produce, feeding us spiritual pap like this week after week, year after year, decade after decade??

On a positive note, the church had the best sound system of any Catholic church I've ever been to. I could actually hear the priest talk, which was a welcome surprise. The next progression would be to hear something worth listening to.

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