January 4, 2009

The tree and decorations and window lights are all down. The New Year’s Eve turkey is on the verge of soup makings, and we’ve arranged some furniture to create a greater sense of space in our living room and dining room.

The new year has begun, and we’re off and running with it.

Of course, there are still some items left over from 2008 that still require attention in 2009. Like that pesky bathroom leak ever since the plumber performed open-heart surgery on one of our toilets Christmas Eve day. And that rapidly-disintegrating kitchen faucet that will finally be replaced after the bathroom leak is fixed tomorrow. And the new tires we were strongly encouraged to put on Tracey’s car ASAP by the Saturn service guy, also on Christmas Eve day – I just didn’t feel like forking over another $200-$300 dollars after forking over $1,200 on emergency repairs. But it still has to get done.

And then there’s the church thing. Over the past few months I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with the worship experience at St. Anne Catholic Church. Certainly the new music director there (I call her the “Music Nazi”) has a lot to do with it – while obviously talented, she just as obviously feels as if everyone must know she’s the Big Kahuna in charge of the music and the creative force behind it. But there are other things as well, and yesterday’s Mass pushed me, I’m afraid, to the point of no return.

The Feast of the Epiphany should have provided a joyful kickoff to the New Year, and I for one was willing to wipe the slate clean and worry less about the various distractions that had clouded the last months of my 2008 attendance there. The church was still decorated in all its Christmastide splendor – white linens, white candles everywhere, the two green Christmas trees in white lights and potted red pointsettas providing a gay and festive contrast. But right from the start I could tell the vibes weren’t right. First, while kneeling in prayer upon taking my seat, a couple intent on filling the space for only 1.5 people next to me plowed in and made room without so much as an ‘excuse me’. Then, the guy gets up and leaves, and the woman pulls a small set of scissors out og her handbag and proceeds to start trimming her facial hair! No lie.

More than a distraction, this woman was freaking me out. Thoughts raced through my mind. I asked myself, ‘What would Jesus do?’, and I the only reasonable answer I could come with was that he’d grab the damned scissors out of her hand and begin casting demons out of her. So even though Mass was now getting started (to the strains of “We Three Kings Of Orient Are”), I got up and made my way to the other side of the church. It was crowded as usual, so for a while I was content to stand in back and try to get my focus back on reverence and worship.

The Music Nazi had other ideas, however, for the Psalm for the day was sung (chanting the Psalms was one of the first casualties of the MN’s reign of musical terror, BTW) to a rockin’ 1980s-style ditty more appropriate for a pop tunesmith like Christopher Cross playing Vegas than a worship service. This clash of setting and musical style and selection – awkward, to be kind – was the MN at her most outrageous and bizarre.

Things got back in the box for a short time courtesy of a marvelous homily delivered by the visiting priest, but even this was destined to a bitter end. Although a bit lengthy in comparison to the usual 8-minute homilies given by Fr. Greg or Fr. Tim, it was nevertheless a finely-crafted, thought-provoking meditation on the Three Wise Men and our own faith journeys to God-With-Us. Just after he sat down following its conclusion, Fr. Greg suddenly appeared out of nowhere to deliver his own four-minute chat – this one on, of all things, stewardship!

Talk about a momentum-breaker! At one point he asked the congregation if any of us were to stop attending St. Anne would anyone notice. I couldn’t help but think that in my case – I’d been attending off and on for well over a year and had yet to be asked by anyone (not even Fr. Greg or Fr. Tim) my name, where I was from, or if I were interested in joining the parish or becoming a Roman Catholic – there was an obvious answer. I should have left then and there, but I didn’t.

The final straw was during the Eucharist, where it seemed to me that only thing that reigned was absolute chaos. A guitarist appeared to play some quiet and meditative tunes but his microphone wasn’t working, so now the MN was up and walking all around the back of the church, giving hand gestures to the choir to hook up another microphone. And then – undoubtedly because the Mass was running longer than it usually did after the extended homily and Fr. Greg’s stewardship talk – it seemed 1/3 of the parish was heading straight for the doors after receiving Communion. Not only was this incredibly bad form (after all, you’re not only treating Our Lord and Savior rudely but all those who are still receiving or waiting to receive His Body and Blood), but, given that this is the time I usually reserve for my own meditation since I don’t go up to receive, I was left to marvel at the madness of it all. I might as well have been sitting in the middle of Grand Central Station at rush hour.

If it seemed things couldn’t get any more chaotic, after the Eucharist the visiting guitarist who had just been playing walked up to the lecturn and proceeded to begin speaking about his own particular ministry (it was to Catholic families). You could visually see whatever patience the congregation might have had remaining disintegrate then and there. The poor guy was up there talking and now whole families, even whole pews, were getting up and leaving! Sure, the Mass was now running 20 minutes longer than it normally did, but the whole thing seemed utterly disrespectful and distasteful to me – a sentiment that didn’t change when the MN and band romped through two hurried verses of “Joy To The World” as if the only important thing was to draw things to as hasty a conclusion as possible.

Afterwards, driving over to a friends house for a post-New Year’s dinner party, I told Tracey I had had enough. St. Anne appeared to me to be the epitome of everything I always believed about Roman Catholicism: great theology practiced horribly. I told her I could never see myself going back to Anglicanism and the the Episcopal Church, but what else to do?

(Ed. note: This feeling was only reinforced afterwards by a late-night perusal through one of my once-favorite books on Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church; leafing through the pages I knew my heart and my mind had moved on and beyond that period in my life and that I could never see myself ever going back.)

Tracey, wise as always, told me not to worry about it so much; because of my monastic leanings I just required a different kind of setting for attending church than most people do. She added that in a place so large and diverse as the Valley of the Sun I was bound to find that somewhere. Her suggestion was to be patient, do my daily offices, and allow God to lead me to where He wanted me to be. As always, I knew she was right.

Little did I know a potential alternative to St. Anne was to drop into my hands the next day…

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 15:50 | Comments (6)
6 Comments »
  1. It is a wise woman that you married. And slowing things down is a very good thing to do..it will all come to you as it is intended.

    Comment by Jana — January 5, 2009 @ 6:56 pm


  2. Happy New Year from Marcos..I just had lunch at his restaurant and he treated me to lunch. He looks great, has lost some weight. Business is booming in both restaurants. He said he is glad you are in AZ where it is not so cold as Mazzatusets. He is adorable and so kind.

    Comment by Jana — January 6, 2009 @ 11:50 am


  3. I read your blog and I had to comment about the leaving church early. My husband and I are firm believers of never leaving church before the priest leaves. Our kids are always asking us why we have to stay when everyone else is leaving. Respect we tell them. Boy were John and I at a loss for words when during Christmas Eve mass during the Eucharist over 2/3rds of the church emptied out. Whole pews were empty by the time we left. What a disappointment on the Lords Birthday.

    Comment by Kim M — January 6, 2009 @ 5:26 pm


  4. Thanks for the good words, Jana. Please tell Marcos he is in our thoughts a lot and that we are glad he is doing well. One of these days, we’ll hook up again, I’m sure.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — January 6, 2009 @ 11:12 pm


  5. Thanks for the comment Kim – my apologies for just seeing it today. All those work hours, y’know? But I love your sentiments and agree with you 100%. You can bet these people wouldn’t leave a George Clooney movie before the titles, that’s for sure! Talk about getting your priorities screwed up!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — January 13, 2009 @ 6:38 pm


  6. […] – but when I attend Mass at a Roman Catholic church – even those times when the Music Nazi was running amok at St. Anne RC Church – I know I’m witnessing the original and historic teachings and sacramental traditions of the […]

    Pingback by Dipping Another Toe | GoodBoys Nation — March 29, 2009 @ 12:46 pm


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