I received an unexpected blessing a few weeks ago. It took the form of an email stating “the campus ministers have decided there will be no 9 pm mass on December 19”. I conduct and worship with a collegiate musical ensemble every Sunday at an hour that to me seems impossibly late. I’ve written before about how they inspire me, and the assembly with whom we worship has become an important part of my spiritual life.
Still, for someone who works early Monday mornings, a standing Sunday night gig can be a drag. I was not-so-secretly happy to squeeze one more week out of winter break. Ever busy, I had two other church gigs in my neighborhood this weekend. After last night’s 6 pm mass I dashed home, got changed, and drove to the apartment of two newlywed friends who are also hosting another couple at whose wedding I sang and who now live in Germany.
We briefly did the basic “catching up” small talk and then conversation plowed right into education: Jesuit schools, charter schools, diocesan schools, rigor, standards, you name it. As the part moved from the living room to the dinner table we talked about the homilies we’d heard at our parishes that weekend, about how parishes (and their liturgies) feed people (or don’t). The Dream Act, Vatican II, the SSPX, a train station in Stuttgart – nothing was outside our purview. We agreed and disagreed, challenged, supported and edified each other. And I thought “here is my other church”.
I hold the sacramental life of the Church in a place of highest honor. It is the Church’s public prayer made up of particular actions that give us grace. But I can only be as positive as I am about the communal prayer of the Church – its liturgy – because I have experience of church that is intimate, local, and relational.
People often roll their eyes at my devotion, because “the Church” does this or that that they – and maybe even I – don’t like. In my heart the Church is not just a series of pronouncements or dogma or the College of Cardinals. My Church has always been my people: my family, my parish, my school, my work, my diocese.
If you don’t ‘get’ community, I don’t see how you could ‘get’ Church, or liturgy. Two nights ago with another group of friends – not from my Catholic circles and not monolithically religious – a dear friend looked around at everyone hollering and laughing in one couples’ basement and whispered to me “this is magical”. Magical it was. A group of people who a few years prior were strangers are now like family. This is my other church.
I come across people who want to get the Church out of the modern world. Let us go back into the fortress, drape the nuns in black habits, cover the women’s heads and put back the altar rail to guard the table from the faithful. Let’s bring the Church back to a different era (one we have arbitrarily chosen as ‘the most Catholic’ – give us the 19th century with indoor plumbing). While we’re at it, let’s make sure we know who’s in and who’s out . There are “real” – pure, elect – members of the Body of Christ, and then there’s everyone else.
The people on that side of the culture war shout the loudest because they know they have lost. The world has turned and they are still in the past. I don’t want an anachronistic Church, frozen in time. I like my Church in the here and now, around all the tables of my life. I recognize the current of grace in which I swim because of real people and relationships. No old-fashioned fantasy can compete with the living, breathing sanctity of my community drawn together by the Spirit of love.