Monday, March 29, 2010

Michael Voris on Staten Island

A few weeks ago I attended a speech by nascent Catholic celebrity Michael Voris at Holy Child church. Mr. Voris started a Catholic media company in 2008 and has recently begun to garner a lot of attention on the internet for his uncompromising orthodoxy and hard-hitting reporting on Catholic issues. Mr. Voris is a 48 year old Notre Dame graduate, a one time seminarian, and a former Emmy award-winning news anchor. At least that's what he's told us.

I have no reason to distrust him, but I'm finding it increasingly odd that I have not been able to find one single piece of independent information about this man on the internet, except for what he himself has revealed. And all of the various websites that rave about him are simply repeating the facts he's provided in his own biography and interviews. I have no solid reason to be suspicious, but I'd like to know a bit more about the man before I'm comfortable seeing him elevated to the position of orthodox Catholicism's public face in America. Where was he born? Who are his parents? Where did he go to school? Why did he leave seminary? Is he now or was was he ever married? Does he have children? Are there any skeletons in his closet that could potentially embarrass the Church and the faithful should they be revealed?

Barring my unease over how little we know about him, I really like the guy. He's a powerful and dynamic speaker, he's zealous and intelligent. So I was eager to hear him in person.

There were a lot of people at the church, although it was by no means full. It might have helped if it were advertised a bit more. The announcement I received said that he was speaking at 7:30, but the Stations of the Cross were just beginning at that time. I didn't mind. The Stations are always spiritually salutary. I'd never seen a priest just stand at the altar and recite the prayers though. Usually, they make the little pilgrimage to each station along the wall. I was disappointed at that. Anyway, Voris came on the stage at 8 and was introduced by the parish pastor.

His theme was "Christ and Caesar" or something to that effect. He spent too much time, in my opinion, merely reiterating the Gospel stories which we all know, but the speech was ultimately a rousing success. His peroration was especially fantastic. He said things that need to be said from Catholic pulpits over and over again, but never are. He basically told us how we need to suffer for the Faith, because there is no value in any other life than one in which we take up our Cross and follow Him. We need to be proud of our Catholicism and publicly witness to it, despite the repercussions. It was an excellent speech.

It made me feel ambivalent though. It was kind of odd to see a layman up there preaching the Gospel from the altar, with a priest sitting meekly in the first row. It made me sad that the clergy has so abdicated their responsibility to preach the Gospel with the power of the Spirit that we need a layman to get up there and give us spiritual meat. I for one have never in my entire life heard a priest speak with such passion and inspiration. I'm sure it was a novel experience for most of the people there as well. Still, I couldn't help feeling ashamed for the Church that a layman from Michigan had to come all the way to Staten Island, NY so we could be inspired with the Gospel message. This parish has multiple priests in residence. Why aren't they giving lectures and inspirational sermons on Friday nights? Why aren't they evangelizing? Why aren't they tending to the spiritual needs of the flock? Why did they need to bring in Michael Voris? (no offense to him).

One last thing- in keeping with Catholic tradition of audio ineptitude, the sound system completely failed at one point, but luckily it was only about 2 minutes before the end of his speech.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mysticism, gay Jesuits, and Catholic abortion providers

Just a few links that piqued my interest: The first is this very perceptive article from the NY Times, about the death of mysticism in contemporary religion, specifically Catholicism. The writer is absolutely correct. When was the last time you felt transcendence in a Catholic Church? When was the last time you felt the Spirit of God at Mass?? The last time I felt those things in Church, my priest was a man who took his vocation and our Faith seriously, whose attitude spread to the entire congregation. What I see now in my church-shopping travels are priests who seem to view themselves as bureacrats or administrators of some sort, who rush through Mass in 30 minutes, who would rather tell jokes than preach repentance, who would prefer to talk about the Yankees than the Gospel.

The other article was also from the Times. It was the obituary of a gay Jesuit who was one of the key figures in the gay rights movement for over 30 years. There's a picture of him marching in a gay rights parade with 3 other priests, all wearing their clerical collars. Can someone tell me how this man was permitted to remain in the priesthood for one second after "coming out"?

The 3rd article is about how the group which represents Catholic hospitals has come out in support of President Obama's health care bill, despite the fact that abortion supporters are telling their people that it will allow federal funding of abortion.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Catholic Church Chopping, Part IX: The Purell Parish

The next place I visited was a North Shore church which had- for the usual reasons I suppose- (falling membership, lack of money) been administratively joined with a nearby parish whose membership has become predominantly Mexican. The church building was one of the uglier specimens of modern church architecture. The church space was square, with primitive, cartoonish stained glass windows adorning one wall and an enclosed chapel/cry room. The traditional paintings and statues only served to emphasize the incongruity with their surroundings. The heavy concrete ceiling resembled a packing crate and gave me the feeling like it was going to fall down on us at any moment. Directly over the altar the architect had installed a gigantic tube. The purpose, I assume, was to cast down light upon the priest. Instead, I kept expecting to hear a loud flush and see the appropriate product come flowing down the pipe.

The music chosen by the pianist was probably the worst I've ever heard. All of the songs were written in the 80s and 90s and were consequently horrible. No melody, no tempo, no life; just a bunch of random notes that made these hymns utterly un-singable. The lyrics were hippy-dippy and were supposed to convey joy, but the hymns were dirge-like when played. It was utterly depressing and discouraging. No one sang.

The priest spoke in an odd, sing-songy manner, which made me think he might have been drunk, but as he held himself pretty steady on his feet, I suppose it was just a vocal idiosyncrasy. His sermon actually made sense. He compared sin to drug addiction- how we start off with just a little bit and before we know it we're sinning more and more and can't stop. That would have been a great theme for a sermon, but unfortunately he delivered it as if his intended audience were 12 year olds. I would have loved to hear the adult version.

The most embarrassing part of the Mass took place after the handshake of peace. The priest came down into the aisles and shook hands with everyone in sight. When he returned to the altar, he took out a big bottle of Purell, dispensed himself a dollop, and spent 30 seconds rubbing his hands with it. He then left the bottle on the altar for the rest of the Mass, right next to the Body and Blood of Christ. First of all, it's incredibly insulting to shake hands with someone and then disinfect yourself right in front of them. If he's so concerned about catching swine flu, he should just forgo the handshake and remain at the altar, as most priests do. Secondly, leaving a bottle of Purell up there on the altar next to the Eucharist was sacrilegious in my opinion. He made himself, the Mass and our Faith look absolutely ridiculous.

On a positive note, this parish has Stations of the Cross, a Bible Study and is having a "Mission". However, in yet another instance of bizarre Catholic thinking, the Mission is held during the week at noon, and the Bible study is at 9AM on Saturday mornings. Come on- let's try to schedule these things so people can actually come!

I returned to this church again this week. The pianist had a small choir this time and the hymns were slightly better, although still sub-par. No one sang. There was a different priest this time, a mustachioed gentleman who looked like an old cowboy. He had a loud, booming voice, which was good. Unfortunately, his sermon rambled from one disconnected platitude to another. When the handshake time came, he too went and shook everyone's hands. As for the Purell, it retained its position of honor on the altar next to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, Humanity's Savior and Lord of the Universe.