While much of my failure to plant my ample backside in a pew can be traced to matters of convenience–in preparing for the Bar Exam, Saturdays were usually dedicated to studying and because I would often work until 4:00 a.m. Sunday, Mass wasn’t all that appealing–quite a bit of my absence from the Church stems from an overall feeling that they just don’t teach anymore. I’ve always been of the decidedly un-Catholic view that we simply do not need to be stranded within four given walls and basking in the uneven rays from stained-glass windows to be able to communicate with God, but the Church in its seeming departure from actually teaching the principles of Christ has for the most part driven me away.
Gone, it seems, is any attempt to inspire. Each week, the readings are the same, the Homilies are the same, the people are the same. Only the cantors change, and even if you get a good one, it’s rarely enough to keep a fidgety four-year-old from needing a nasty, typically parental look or two.
Recently, however, I’ve felt that I need to make more of an effort. Preparation for the Bar Exam has ended (for now, in that I’ll know in late October whether I need to do it all over again), and other than laziness I really have no excuse not to attend. It’s great for our daughter. It’s the right thing to do. And, frankly, I have quite a bit to be thankful for.
So, yesterday morning, I finally attended Mass for the first time since moving south from Philadelphia to Charleston. The Church was beautiful, the folks inside wonderfully accommodating. The cantor was amazing, and the choir was even better. I started to wonder whether my problem had merely been a byproduct of Catholicism in the frozen and bitter northeast. And then, when the time came for the Homily, our priest actually endeavored to teach us something.
“Yesterday’s gifts,” our priest began, “quickly turn into today’s entitlements.” A smile crept across my face. I think I might have found myself a home, I recall thinking.
And then it all fell apart.
“Did you ever notice,” the priest continued, apparently channeling Andy Rooney, “when, on the highway, one certain vehicle is extended an obvious courtesy by being allowed to merge or something like that, only to deny that same courtesy to another driver a few miles down the road? Yesterday’s gifts quickly turn into today’s entitlements.”
Yes, Father! I have noticed that! I, too, drive!
“And did you ever notice,” he continued, “how a little toddler will be given a toy or a stuffed animal by a parent or an adult wishing to generously bestow a gift upon them, only to turn around and scream ‘MINE!’ and deny other toddlers the opportunity to play with the toy? Yesterday’s gifts quickly turn into today’s entitlements.”
Well, yes, Father. But that’s … well, I don’t know about your parenting experience, but that’s … well … kind of the nature of a toddler, and not a reflection on whether that toddler is embracing Christ’s teachings or showing generosity or just being an overall jerk or something. But, hey, the choir is beautiful, so I’ll give you a pass on this one.
“And did you ever notice,” he continued, pausing slightly but noticeably so as to ensure that the congregation would lean forward and listen, “that so many people who are themselves the children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of immigrants to this nation will turn around and deny that same opportunity to immigrants now? Yesterday’s gifts quickly turn –”
Yeah, yeah, father. I get it. Well, damn, I think I’m gonna become a Baptist.
It got worse from there. The priest directly addressed the ongoing debate over the Arizona immigration bill which has “unfortunately been shaped by the likes of talk radio and by 24-hour cable news” and chastised those attending Mass for daring to believe that we are a nation of laws. Because our own ancestors once came here to this nation, whether willingly at the likes of Ellis Island or unwillingly in the belly of a slave ship, we should acquiesce and extend the same courtesy to those who wish to come here with their families now.
“Imagine,” he said, “if the borders to this country were closed to your parents or grandparents.” To my right, a Hispanic woman was whispering–translating, presumably–to her husband.
Of course, having followed the debate over illegal immigration since before it reared its ugly head during the spring of 2005, I was hardly surprised to hear the local manifestation of the commitment nationwide by the Catholic Church to serve as sanctuary for illegal immigrants. To be honest, I understand completely where the Church is coming from, but so long as we’re going to introduce policy into weekly Mass, perhaps a little adherence to the facts would be kosher?
First, as is always the case when debating illegal immigration with the open-borders crowd, the Church failed to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. Nobody I know seriously wants to shutter America to those who wish to enter correctly, assimilate and contribute. And yet the priest repeatedly characterized those who wish for our laws to be enforced intentionally blended the line between legitimacy and illegality, leaving anyone who perhaps only casually follows current events with the wrongheaded idea that those who oppose the Arizona bill actually stand in opposition to America as a melting pot.
Second, when it came to the relationship between yesterday’s gifts and today’s entitlements, the priest indicted the wrong party. Yes, that my great-great-grandparents were allowed to enter the United States of America from Lithuania and Great Britain was absolutely a gift. But so is citizenship today, and those who wish to obtain American citizenship or merely suck off the teat of the United States without intention of legitimacy are the ones seeking entitlement.
If the Church wants to take a political or moral stand on the issue of illegal immigration in the United States of America, fine. Personally, I’d rather see the Church expound upon the teachings of Jesus Christ–that’s, uh, kinda why I’m there–and work to solidify the moral and virtuous base of this nation and, personally, I worry about a group which so willingly aligns itself with political factions seeking the elimination of all things religious from the public square, but to enjoin the Church from serving a specific mission would itself be wrong. I only insist, however, that any attempt to guide a congregation be done factually. While the limitations of the standard Homily may not provide room for, say, budgetary figures in cash-strapped states like California and how those figures could change with immigration enforcement, the Church should at least take care not to intentionally omit material fact.
I would be interested in hearing the opinion of those in the Catholic Church as to whether just anyone would be welcome to sit with Christ in the hereafter, or if there are a few earthly requirements to secure admittance past those Pearly Gates. I’m no theologian, but I’m fairly certain that some folks just may not make the cut absent the work necessary to achieve those earthly goals. Here in America, it’s much the same way — anyone can come here, but certain requirements must be met before entry is allowed. Why is that distinction so difficult for the Catholic Church to understand?
Regardless, I’ll give it another shot next Sunday. Worst case scenario, I can always receive daily devotionals on my smartphone like someone else we know.