Thursday, January 26, 2017

"He's not a monster"

I heard someone say it again. Well, of course he's not a monster; no one is an actual "monster". We are humans. Maybe we sometimes behave like monsters, but that is not the point (and, no, I am not merely picking on their word choice). Yet, saying he is not a monster is akin to saying "he's not a fried egg". We live in an age of muddy thinking, and that means that right and wrong are often skewed in people's minds. Hence, we have a situation where someone does something that everyone knows is evil and the "defense" is, "he's not a monster". In other words, "he's not as bad as some horrible, six legged, slimy, creature from a sci-fi movie".

How many times have I heard someone talk about a child that was in trouble with the law as "he's really a good kid". Just what does "good" mean in that context? It does not appear to mean the same as what I mean when I use that word. It may seem nit-picky to talk about the words that are used here, but it is not merely an issue of trying to get definitions straight. Rather, it is an issue of getting our thinking straight. How can we continue to compromise about morality so easily? I will venture to take an educated guess: we have been slipping for so long in our movies and music, I find it amazing that more people have not noticed it. Spend enough time making the edges of morality fuzzy, and you will eventually succeed in making people's minds fuzzy about morality.

It is a sad testimony to the moral fiber of our nation that most people get their ethical rules from what they see in movies and hear in music. The scariest thing about this is that those who are making movies and writing music are mostly not people who have much moral fiber. Think about this: actors are basically just professional liars, and musicians may have some talent (emphasis on "some"), but that does not mean that they have an education in philosophy, ethics or politics (obviously!). Are we really willing to trust these people to guide our lives? It is not as though they are anything really important in society--they are just entertainers after all.

It is Hollywood who has given us our understanding of "monsters", have they not? They have invented some pretty horrifying monsters for us on the screen (and I must admit I like science fiction monster stories). Yet, is that really our only point of comparison when it comes to wicked behavior? If someone is "not a monster" then that means that he is morally acceptable? Wow! Pretty low standards, eh?

Parents, you really can do better than merely keeping your children from being "monsters". No, not because raising godly children is a stress-free, effort-free, job; but, rather, because God promises to enable you to do so if  you will only put your hope and trust in Him to do so. Far too many parents give up on the grounds of letting children decide for themselves about what is right (which is actually encouraging them to fall into grave sin). Others will compromise and say that it is just too difficult. In one way that is true: it is too difficult to do it on our own (I know, I have tried it). The standard is high, and the strength to reach that standard is always available if we will only but use it. Let us call on God to help us do better than "not monsters".

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Quiet Mass

I said Mass this morning. "Ho-hum", you may say, "was there something special about it?" In most of the ways you are probably thinking about, no. There was one way that it was unique though. It was the first time that I said Mass and had no one show up, and I usually have at least 5 or 6 people there (it was one time that I was glad that Epiphany is transferred to Sunday!). Now, I have to qualify this so that you do not think anything bad about my parishioners. It was 9 degrees outside with snow and ice on the roads when I left my home to go to Church, and I live in southern Missouri where those conditions are generally rare. Therefore, I cannot blame my people for choosing to stay home this morning (I was tempted to do so myself).

Yet, I did go ahead and celebrate Holy Mass. Now, I must admit, I do not know the exact rules for every diocese, but I am a priest of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. In the Ordinariate, we are encouraged to celebrate Mass even if no one is able to attend. Firstly, this is for our own personal spiritual growth (since saying the Mass has a significant effect on the priest himself). Secondly, it is for the sake of the Mass intentions--there is always grace given when the sacrifice of the Mass is enacted, regardless of how many people are present. Then, I will add a third (which is not from my Bishop per se, but is my own opinion). There is something uniquely awesome about celebrating Mass alone.

Yes, I said "awesome" (not in the sense of "cool", but rather "awe-inspiring"). Let me elaborate what I mean by that. I do not actually "prefer" to say Mass alone (I love having a packed Church during Mass). There is a real disappointment that my people were not able to be there for the celebration. Yet, there is something awe-inspiring about going through the Mass with just "Jesus and me" in the Church. My inner inclination is to whisper while I am saying the Mass alone; as though there is something wrong about speaking at full volume with no parishioners present. It is sort of the same feeling you get when you walk into a Church and there is no one else there.

As I said above, this was the first time no one showed for Mass, but as a priest of the Ordinariate, I have said Mass alone (often called a "private Mass") a number of times (e.g. on my days off). Although we are not supposed to seek to isolate ourselves from the rest of the parish, priests do need some time of quietness with God. Having that in the context of the Mass is an especially unique spiritual blessing. Silence is a long forgotten joy that the Devil wants to eliminate from our lives. He floods us with a million media screens and sound speakers to overload our souls until they forget what a joy genuine silence is.

Another blessing that comes from saying the Mass by myself is that during a Mass with the people I am constantly focusing on what is going on, making sure that I am attentive to the people, the servers, the musicians, etc. In a Mass that is said alone, there is a certain sense of being able to worship more deeply (something priests often will let slide and compromise for the sake of their ministry--an odd trade-off when you think about it).

Therefore, yes, I said the Mass "anyways"; even though I was the only one there. Like I said above, however, I would not want to do this frequently (and for my parishioners who are reading this--no, I do not want you to stay home intentionally; only do so when you need to). Each one of us, whatever our situation, needs to look for how we can take advantage of the odd experiences that we encounter, and not look at every unexpected event like a problem. It is possible that God may even be doing something special with you in that specific circumstance. As my Grandmother used to say, "when you're handed lemons, make lemonade". When we are handed silence, we should not seek automatically to avoid it.