I found your website by accident, and having lived for a couple years in Seattle, was actually expecting the worst when I clicked to go see what you were up to. I was expecting some sort "New Catholic Church of Seattle" along the lines of what I had seen in some churches out there, but was pleasantly surprised. I would have written to you earlier but my email didn't work. That's actually a good thing because I have since read more of your site and have answered some of my own questions. I like your homilies for their philosophical rigor.
I have a couple issues that I still would like to discuss. This first is more of a comment than an actual question, and is along the lines of the observations made by the writer in #145. It seems a lot of priests these days have the impression that as long as whatever they do during Mass is in the name of being holy, then it is OK. The result is that Mass turns into some sort of carnival. This is a big problem. I sometimes wonder if I am in a theater or chruch. The downside of all these theatrics is that they get my attention all right, which I guess is better than not paying attention, but I end up paying attention to the PEOPLE and not what's going on. Makes me think about the gospel story of the hypocrites who already have their reward. Is there anything I can do to help fix this?
The second issue is less clear cut (if that first one was clear cut at all). As you know, a few years back the church expanded those eligible to serve at mass to include young women. I accept this but am not happy with it. I was mad about it for several years--now that anger has been replaced by sadness. I read recently that 82 percent of ministers in the Church (Eucharistic, lectors, etc.) are women. I don't have a statistic for altar servers but I am sure it is about the same. I am sad because the role that had the greatest role in introducing me to my faith has been opened up to women. This may seem selfish, but I'll explain. If you've ever watched a pickup soccer game, or a group of kids trying to build a tree house, you'll know that a few work and all the rest watch. I'll call this the "crowding effect." I fear that is happening in the Church. For some reason, women really like this religion thing (hence the 82 percent). But the altar "boy" role always existed to serve as a way for boys to get involved, because if they didn't, no one else did. My church growing up actually started the altar girl thing back in the late eighties and I quit as a altar boy in protest. I was hoping my parish was an abberation with its two or three girls mixed in with the boys until that day in the spring of 94 (April, it was a Wednesday, if that's any indication of the effect it had on me: I rememeber where I was and what I was doing! Almost like a "where were you when Kennedy was shot?" story! I saw the article on the church's decision in the Boston Globe at about 6:45 am). Now around here you have to look hard to find an altar "boy" at all. Makes you think girls always did the job. I was temporarily heartened when I saw your email answer that some parishes and dioceses haven't changed, and I thought of trying to find one of these, but that's just running from the problem. The problem is that while I hear and obey the churches rulings, I am not happy. I really think the church goofed this one up. Maybe there are no religious reasons for barring women from this role, but there are plenty of practical ones, the most important being that young men are getting crowded out of the church. I never quit going to Mass, but my faith in the temporal church (leaders and institutions) was really rocked, and remains that way. I cringe when I think of the day I'll see the next article on women deacons, then priests.
The simple "make everyone happy answer" to my question is to just get more boys and men involved. I was asked to be a lector at my church, but I said no, so I'm part of the problem. I said no partly because I am really busy, partly because I don't like theater effect, and partly because of my feelings as described above. But that "happy" answer is the wrong answer: human beings don't work that way. I am now hesitant to get more invloved in the Church because I feel like I'd be stepping onto a sinking ship. When I was in high school I thought every day of becoming a priest. Now I wait in fear for the day when I'll get the message "you don't belong here."
I like this website because you seem like you are dragging your feet against all this nonsense, but I am becoming more and more resigned to the fact that you and people like you are like a group of sailors trapped in the engineroom of a sinking ship: doing everything possible to keep the ship afloat, so those on deck can make it to the lifeboats, but ultimately drowning, and the ship itself going down regardless. I hate to say it, but I really have my gravest fears for the future of our mother Church. I'd get involved, but it would kill me.
Thanks for your time reading this. If you post it, please delete my name, etc. since I am a private person and value that privacy even in this most un-private of venues. I've talked to other priests about this and never get a good answer. Upon voicing my protest on this matter before quitting back in '87, My pastor told me "before today I thought you'd might make a good priest, but I guess not." Maybe I should have taken the hint then.
My one cause for hope lays in the East. I've met some Orthodox (from Romania). They still take things seriously over there. Maybe the schism of 1098 can be healed. We need some of their blood and brains in the Roman Church. We need it bad.
Thank you for your letter and for the kind words about the website. I have been thinking about your email this week, particularly this evening as I made a Holy Hour.
I do agree with you that sometimes the state of the church does look hopeless, that we are getting more and more sucked into our culture which has a surface smile but underneath, as you know, is the culture of death. Still, we need to recall G.K. Chesterton's reminder that Christian hope is only possible in a hopeless situation. And a part of the hopelessness is not just what surrounds us, but what is inside us, some of the things you alluded to - fear, despair, laziness, lust, etc. The only real response is prayer, especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, maybe look for a church like St. Alphonsus or Holy Family which have chapels open to prayer before Jesus most of the days of the week. From that prayer you (and I) will realize just where he wants us to get involved. Maybe it's just at your workplace or in your family, but like C.S. Lewis, probably the places where the lines are the thinnest.
There are signs that people's prayers are being answered. The priests more recently ordained tend to be more serious about doctrine, correct liturgy, etc. See Fr. Jim Northrop's website for an example. And of course we are being blessed by many beautiful Vietnamese priests who have a lovely (un-selfconscious) orthodoxy. Hopefully we will soon be able to get back to what Vatican II was really telling us and have the genuine reform the Council was calling for.
I see a lot of hope in our home school families. Orthodoxy and having children tend to go together. If nothing we will "outbreed" the folks who want a watered down version of the faith. The home schoolers are challenging not only the public schools, but Catholic as well.
I could point out other "answers to prayer" but it might give the impression we can ease off. The combined power of the world, flesh & devil can overwhelm any of us at any time if we are not focused on Jesus. At the same time we should not be overawed by those forces, ultimately they are very weak and shallow. They don't have their fertility, they can only take something that is good and corrupt it. I talked to a priest from here who attended a Call to Action conference. Even tho he maintained a kind of weary allegiance to their idea of "reform," he admitted that most of the folks there were gray haired - and bitter.
The sad part in all this is that the kind of approach to catechetics and liturgy which you observed has resulted in losing the greater part of a generation or two of Catholics. Most have drifted away from the Church or perhaps been picked up by an evangelical group. The young Catholics we have are largely from other countries. I see it in the immigrants from Latin America, the Philippines, Vietnam who may not have had the greatest religious formation, but at least one that was not subject to so many distortions annd which had a devotional emphasis which has sustained many of them even coming to this environment. The challenge will be to learn from them, not lose them.
Anyway those are some of my reflections. I return to what I said initially - pray and don't lose hope.
Fr. Phil Bloom
P.S. A good resource on "Do's & Don'ts" of liturgy is Mass Confusion