Sunday, March 20, 2011

Catholic Church Shopping, Part X: Ho-hum

The next stop on the tour was a place that, at least at one time, was an Italian National Parish. Its church is a modernist design, built in 1988. Some of the stained glass windows aspired to representational art, as opposed to cartoonish or abstract figures, but their Jesus looked like he came off the cover of a 1970s record album. With his long hair, world-weary gaze, and slightly ticked off expression, He looked like all He wanted to do was pack up His guitar and His dog, move to Colorado and sing Gordon Lightfoot songs. I went to a 9:00 Mass and was shocked to see about 200 people present. Not all of them were senior citizens, although the preponderance were grey-heads.

The organist was a large, bald fellow who resembled Kevin Malone from "The Office". He had a wonderful, deep singing voice, although the songs were none too memorable. He was accompanied by a large choir of tween-age girls, who had to wear extremely ugly lime-green choir gowns. In a first for any choir I've ever known, they seem to have been too shy to actually sing loudly. Even though they had a microphone and a large group, they whispered their lyrics almost to the point of inaudibility. That was too bad, since they would have sounded beautiful. Hardly anyone in the congregation sang, or even pretended to pick up a missalette.

The priest was Filipino. I wasn't surprised, since in my experience the junior priests and the foreign priests with bad accents are usually given the early morning and late afternoon Masses, so the pastor can focus all his energy on the main performance: 10:30 Mass or thereabouts. Actually, whenever a pastor has a subordinate to order around, he usually has him say most of the Masses, no matter how bad his accent. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this foreign priest was actually quite well spoken. He made a point to enunciate his words, so that I probably understood a good 80%. That day's Gospel was the one in which Jesus says that the people who only say "Lord, Lord" will not enter his kingdom, but only those who do the will of God the Father. The priest gave a solid, if unspectacular, sermon.

He did challenge us to examine our lives and question whether our works are pleasing to the Lord, but still, for such a very important topic, I felt that he could have went a little deeper and gotten a bit more specific. After all, most of us are spiritually complacent. If we ever deign to examine our souls, we will almost invariably pronounce them up to snuff. Conscience has a way of being rationalized away.  That is when it is the priest's duty to say, "Have you broken the First Commandment, in this, that, and the other specific? Have you broken the Second Commandment, etc. Ok, you've kept all the Commandments? Then you've done nothing more than your duty! Do you proudly proclaim your Faith in Christ, in word and deed? Do you evangelize? Do you give to the poor? Do you volunteer? How about the Beatitudes? How about the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy?" Even the Pope says that priests need to start preaching on "uncomfortable" topics. I almost feel that discomfort needs to be the primary emotion conveyed, to ensure that an effective sermon was given. We are in barbaric spiritual warfare in this life, but we are fat, lazy and ignorant. However, what we usually hear from the pulpit is supportive and congratulatory.

The priest could also have pointed out that this Gospel passage is a devastating proof text against Protestant Sola Fide. Still, I was pleased to hear a priest at least say something of substance for a change.

By the way, this church's history is intertwined with that of the adjacent Catholic high school, which was once Staten Island's premier co-ed institution of secondary ed. In recent years, this school has built a professional looking football field and really ramped up its worship of the sports idol. To that end, I think it has made an effort to recruit star athletes, whether Catholic or not. (One of its star football players, who was killed in a drunken driving accident last year, had his funeral service in a nearby Pentecostal megachurch.) I found myself taking the bus with these sterling examples of Catholic students last year and listened to them curse and fight and disgrace themselves with obscene discussions the entire trip. To top it off, when they came to their stop, they called the female bus driver an f***ing b***h for no reason whatsoever.

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