Over the weekend I had an experience that reminded me of something a priest had told me over twenty years ago. At the time I was a student of St. Meinrad College and the priest visiting told me to take a look around, "What you see here today, you'll see in a parish twenty years from now."
Yesterday while attending mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Louisville, KY that prophetic utterance came to pass. In a church that obviously had been remodeled with the "St. Meinrad experience" in mind, I stood and sat at Mass as though I had been transported back to my college experience of twenty years ago. Before I become a little critical of the experience let me first say that the pastor Father John Judie presided and preached in a manner that one would wish all priests would. His homily was well thought out, delivered in an inspiring manner and based on Abraham Joshua Heschel's last words. It was very, very good!
The things that were not so good were the additions and deletions that had nothing to do with Father Judie (although I'm sure they probably originate with him but he didn't participate in them). First there was an introductory rite that wasn't penitential (the penitential rite still happened but it wasn't first--it came after all the glad handing that represents the worst in "liturgical" acretions that have crept into the liturgy since Vatican II). A commentator welcomed us to this celebration, asked if there were any guests. A few hands went up, not mine of course because I don't consider myself a guest at any Catholic Church but a member! "Where you from?" "Why are you here?" etc. Applause. Next it was turn and greet your neighbor (something that of course you'll have to do again when it occurs liturgically. Then an announcement that if you have to go to the bathroom during the liturgy, you'll have to travel to another building. Then a prayer for the success of the parish's strategic planning that sounded a little strange in that it urged the pray-er to be open to change and whatever might happen, etc. Finally after all of this (about 10 minutes worth) we were told tod to rise and greet our celebrant.
From there Mass went on as usual. The so called "sexist" parts of the liturgy were changed to be less offensive to some, but more offensive to others (namely me). We stood throughout the Eucharistic prayer because there were no kneelers. The music didn't match (nothing new or unusual about that), Amy commented later that she feels that the inclusion of "songs" at liturgy is faulty because songs by there very nature are a show unto themselves and disrupt the flow of the liturgy which is one big song if sung right. Communion was under both species and Jesus was given to us under the appearance of "real" bread.
Like I said earlier, all of this I had experienced twenty years earlier in the college chapel at St. Meinrad, Indiana--now here I was twenty years later experiencing it in a parish. But there is more to the story than just this trip down memory lane.
On Saturday I was at St. Meinrad and while Amy did research on an upcoming book I was doing a little research of my own with Joseph at my side revisiting all of the spots where I had prayed as a college student some twenty years earlier.
First that chapel. It is in ruins right now. It is being renovated and from the casual walk through it is being built into something very beautiful for God. Elegant stone work is being laid on the floor of the once carpeted space. Wood carvings lie waiting their placement on the walls. Light fixtures shine brightly after having the tarnish removed from their brass holdings. It is clear that what is taking place is more than a renovation, in reality it is a restoration not of the chapel that I prayed in twenty years ago, but the chapel that had existed some twenty years before that in the 1960's.
Next a visit to the Monastic church which has already been renovated beautifully and I was surprised to find that there have been new additions since my last visit--kneelers have been placed in front of the chairs where the lay visitors sit. Also I noticed a crucifix has been placed near the altar.
Next we traveled to a spot dear to me--a shrine of Mary that I personally restored while a student at the college. When I first arrived there in 1980 I found the shrine suffering neglect. Trees and brush had grown in front of the shrine and it appeared that no one cared. I speer headed a group of students who cleared out the brush, cleaned up the cobwebs and bees nests, and arranged for one of the priests to offer Mass at the shrine as a sort of "rededication" of the shrine. From that day forward we arranged for a candle to burn at the shrine. Often I would walk outside at night and see the light of that candle burning from afar in the woods and feel that my prayers were being heard even when I wasn't conscously offering them. So I traveled with my son out to the shrine that has been well cared for every since by the monks of St. Meinrad. Two candles were burning as we approaced. Joseph prayed a Hail Mary with me (repeating the phrases that I uttered) and then pointed out what he could recognize--Mary, snake, apple. After are prayerful visit I began heading around the lake until a very large snake slithering into the water changed my mind.
From here we went to the cemetary and I pointed out to Joseph the holy priests now awaiting their eternal reward who had helped me to grow stronger in my faith. We said short prayers at their graves--his a simple Father, Son, Spirit--Amen, was more elegant than mine.
A short drive away from the seminary brought us to a shrine of St. Joseph that the Archabbot has had renovated and cleaned up. He credits his devotion to St. Joseph for having favorably dealt with many of the problems of the monastery. This particular shrine has Joseph standing with Jesus in a tall wooden carving that looks across the valley toward the monastery. Jesus holds a carving of with the Roman numeral four upon it--symbolic of the fourth commandment "Honor your father and mother." Engraved into the stone that enshrines the statues are the words, "Saint Joseph" on one side and "Our Protector" on the other. Joseph enjoyed this visit to his namesakes shrine.
Another short drive took us to the Shrine of Our Lady of Monte Cassino, for a beautiful respite from the sun in this shady hill top shrine. Inside we lit candles and again offered simple prayers. I had told Joseph that this was the "baby" church because of how small it is. Inside of course there is a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus and upon the ceiling there are paintings of Mary holding the baby Jesus. Along the walls are images illustrating the Litany of Loretto written in Latin. I had Joseph point out what he saw and then told him what it was. One that caught his fancy was the illustration for "Tower of Ivory" that showed a tower built with ivory and three elephants in front of it pointing out of course where ivory comes from and the sacrifice that would be required to build one.
Outside of the shrine is an old water pump and Joseph enjoyed pumping water by hand out of the ground. I found myself lost in thought about this simple act and wondered if one of the key problems of modern life is how out of touch we are with where everything "comes" from and if in our advanced society we haven't lost touch with the very origins of our daily existence. Pumping water out of the ground has been replaced by a device that reads movement in front of a water faucet and turns water on. Somehow on the shady hillside watching Joseph pump water it was easier to connect with the ultimate origin of our being--God.
So all of this wandering through my past and seeing how it has changed over the years left me with one conclusion. If what I witnessed as I walked the grounds of St. Meinrad is a vision of the church in twenty years it was a good vision. Things are improving, they make take awhile to work there way into parish life but they will and in the meantime we can all begin clearing the brush away and lighting a candle to lighten up our corner of the church.