Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Desert

Picking up the blog has been an interesting journey for me. For starters, at one point, I felt the need to separate out my faith from my "other stuff", something which I now know is, at best short-sighted, and at worst self-deceiving. I cannot divorce my Catholicism from the rest of me, any more than I can remove the fact that I am a woman, or a mother, or a musician, or any other part if me. I am a whole, and ignoring part of it is akin to removing a limb.

It has been in rereading old entries such as this one that I realize the spiritual desert I am currently in.  The passage that really struck me was

I contemplated, looking around at the interior of the sanctuary, how connected we are, as Catholics, to the past. The continuity is startling to me at times. I am reminded by something said by the then-Monseigneur Fulton Sheen in a video of the Tridentine Mass: nothing in the Church is thrown away. Everything is build upon, preserved. 
It struck me very much during the singing of the Pange Lingua during the procession: here we are, centuries upon centuries later, singing the same words, the same tune, that our Catholic forbearers sang (it was penned by St. Thomas Aquinas from the 13th century). Many of the words we speak (the Kyrie, for example) date from the day of the early Church. Even our creed in some form or another dates from at least the 4th century. Gazing around the church, you can see the symbols and the elements that have remained with us for 2000 years... Even with the advent of Vatican II during the 1960's, the Catholicity of the Church is still very much intact.

I'm trying desperately to remember what that sense of peace and security felt like. I'm trying to remember how I felt so connected to the past, because I don't feel like that anymore. 

What changed? 

Well, I think things started to change for me when something oh-so-common in Catholic Churches occurred - we got a new priest. 

Movement of diocesan clergy is commonplace in most parishes, most staying for four to six years before moving somewhere else. I know there's a philosophy/social theory behind that, less years than that it's too hard to get things done but more years than that it becomes overwhelming, something like that. Father Y came to us shortly after Abby was born, in 2006, and left in 2012, moved to a different parish within the diocese. 

I loved Father Y. Under him, I felt a comfortable bridging between things that were old (i.e. tradition) and things that were new (the New Mass). Under him, there was a happy medium, those things coexisted relatively well. Under him, there were no girl altar servers, and yet there were always servers for every Mass. There was incense and bells, even as Mass was said versus populum as we sang some bad Dan Schutte or Carey Landry tune, so favoured by those of a certain age bracket. He had beautiful vestments, and not that polyester crap you see too often these days. He talked about things like Natural Family Planning and other tough topics. He was heavily invested in forming vocations, taking several young men under his wing including one that was just ordained this past summer. He took a special interest in helping a few select individuals, individuals mostly written off by the community, something I think largely influenced by his career pre-priesthood.

It was a comfortable place for me to be. When we talked about moving back to Winnipeg, neither me or my husband wanted to leave the parish. We had roots, dude. 

Now, I know not everyone loved Fr. Y like I did. People have criticized that he was not "good with youth", because he made the tough decision to cancel the unsustainable LifeTeen program (the volunteers had burnt out and attendance was dwindling, besides the fact the umbrella program for that was mired in controversy at the time) and he didn't allow girl altar servers. He was criticized for certain aspects of his spending on the restoration of the parish, splurging on some items (I feel that particular criticism has at least some merit). He was maybe not the most efficient or effective human resource manager, having numerous strong personalities in the office at that time needing leadership. 

But he was a good priest, and I was sure and happy in my faith. I had beautiful things on the outside, and they inspired beautiful things on my inside. 

Then we got a new priest. Now, I want to add that he was still a very good, faithful and holy priest - but he was fully invested in the New. There was no more incense (or at least, very rarely), there were polyester vestments, and homilies were more of the Church of Nice variety. He was "great with the youth" according to several parishioners, yet the remaining youth program was dissolved due to lack of kids? staff? (I'm not even sure at this point) and there often wasn't altar servers despite girls once more being allowed. He was beloved by those who loved the New, and regarded with suspicion by those of use who loved the Old. 

And then he got sick and had to leave. 

He left last Fall. I don't blame him, and I respect him tremendously for talking about his struggles and his determination to get well. I do not begrudge him in the least for that. But that set the stage for Father G. 

After Father Y left, I became increasingly interested in all things Trad. By Trad, I mean traditional Catholic. I had dabbled in it for several years at that point - Father Y facilitated TLM being said on occasion at our parish, usually on a Sunday afternoon, and I attended a few times. My curiousity initially was mostly academic. History fascinates me, and I found myself drawn to this archaic form of worship to understand where we came from. But once our parish became heavily invested in the New, I found myself asking lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions. Questions that had neither easy nor satisfying answers. 

In other words, Father G could not have re-entered my life at the worst time. 

I had met Father G some 15 years prior, before I really came back to the Church. I don't really want to go into the why and how right now, because that would be another long, drawn out, convoluted blog post. For our purposes, it suffices to say that Father G is beyond heavily invested in the New. 

He's for a New Order. 

There is, in both conservative Catholic and traditional Catholic circles, increasingly urgent whispers about the crisis in the Church. Conflict. Conspiracy. I never saw any of that first-hand, and didn't understand it. But sitting in the pews, listening to Father G say.... I can only describe them as outrageous... things every Sunday, and seeing all the nodding heads around me... 

I felt sick. 

Thankfully, Father G's stay was only temporary, for a season. We are now blessed with a more orthodox priest who will be (God-willing) remaining with us for several years. But the damage was done. I am shell-shocked. Empty. 

A husk. 

Gone is my prayer life. Gone is my ability to hear God's whisper in the stillness of my heart. Gone is my peace and assurance. Gone is my desire to even go through the motions. 

I am in the desert.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar - T.S. Eliot



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