LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
I never see what is there. I notice what is not, then, imagine the rest.
Perhaps it is the poet or the dreamer in me, but it happens quite often. It happened most recently with a photograph I encountered on Facebook: A black and white portrait of Catholicism at its best.
In the snapshot, a purposeful priest is clad in a black robe and adorned in a white frock. He is walking through a sleepy village...moving away from the camera. Slovakia. Circa 1940’s? Although, I can only see him from the back, I imagine the priest to be transporting the Eucharist--the "real and living presence" of Our Lord.
In the center of the photo, two men grip their caps and are kneeling in a muddy street, the deep rut of a wagon wheel separating them from the approaching cleric. There is an omnipotent oxen standing in the foreground of the photo. His “all-seeing” eyes remind us that: God is watching.
I thought then of what Sherry Weddell wrote in her guide to Forming Intentional Disciples: “Invite people to live with Him and for Him, anchor people in the Eucharist, and they won’t wander off.” Weddell's words might have been the caption to this photograph of two men firmly grounded in their reverence of and belief in the Risen Christ.
The facilitator begins:
You're home alone.
There's a knock at the door.
You don't feel safe when someone
uninvited calls. You don't open
the door to strangers. Your father
warned you about that.
Your father was a stranger.
Through a winking blind
you see the back of a man's hand,
his sturdy wrist--
a wine stain.
Now the facilitator's voice:
You open the door.
Jesus is standing there.
What do you do?
Someone's grandmother anchored
by her crucifix calls out:
Slam the door!
But you don't hear her or the laughter.
You don't look for your shoes,
you don't hesitate.
Instead, you take His arm,
walk Him to the top of the
porch steps and say:
Sit here with me. Let's watch
for evening. I have been looking
for you for such a long time.
I am a problem solver; however, it has taken me most of my 50 years on earth to understand that there is not much I can do to change most things. It has been a hard lesson to learn, and an even more difficult truth for me to accept. To leave all things in the hands of Our Lord has been challenging for me.
I have invoked the Serenity Prayer so often that I secretly suspect it may be conspicuously flashing across my forehead - in neon!
But, there is one thing I am convinced that I can do something about: Advocating to restore the Altar Boy back to his rightly place beside the priest during Mass. I am hoping that the subject of this blog, a dilemma many parishes are plagued with, will catch the attention of someone in the Albany (NY) Diocese who then will Tweet Pope Francis and encourage him to check out this week’s blog. Perhaps then the powers that be will focus efforts on what I perceive as symptomatic of a greater problem: The dreaded “Catholic Man-Crisis” which inevitably has its effect on vocations to the priesthood.
Before LetItAllStartHere, started here, I was planning to produce a documentary chronicling lives of Altar Boys. I discovered a significant connection between an adult man’s commitment to a career in the service of others, and the time they spent, serving Mass. Their willingness to serve God as young boys was often reflected in their chosen vocations be that as a firefighter, police officer, environmentalist, foster parent, teacher, coach, etc. It was my intention to have the documentary celebrate the lives of these men and it would also become my way of answering Pope Francis’ call to participate in The New Evangelization.
As of today, our parish has only one dedicated altar boy. There are two or three adult women altar servers. These generous women have stepped up to assist the priest during Mass, and I am grateful to them. However, that is certainly not the answer to the problem that has been ignored for far too many years. One that has inevitably resulted in the shortage of males who are actively involved in the Catholic Church at this time.
The slow extinction of the altar boy must be reversed. The use of surrogate altar servers - be they young girls or grown women, seems to be preventing the Church from taking the necessary steps to recruit young men who are willing to volunteer their time and talents to serve our Lord. And it is an obvious, to me, that these females have become obstacles for boys who either feel uncomfortable being “up there with girls” or complacent, saying to themselves : If “mom” is going to handle it, like she makes my bed or cleans my room, I will just sit back and let her.
I understand that we live in different times. In the past, parental influence played a large part in a boy’s decision to serve on the altar during Mass. I recognize that our culture does not encourage or support a boy’s choice to become an altar boy. I get that the popular pastime for a young boy these days is to participate in a sport, or lose oneself in the fantasy life of a gamer. But that doesn’t mean that I think this issue should not be talked about because…quite frankly...“what’s the use?” and the attempt to resurrect the altar boy, abandoned.
I am not afraid to admit that I am in agreement with Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor of Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco, who came under fire for his courageous and controversial decision to phase out female altar servers. Fr. Joseph believes there is an “intrinsic connection” between the priesthood and serving at the altar; since women can’t be priests, it makes sense to have only altar boys. He added: “Maybe the most important thing is that it prepares boys to consider the priesthood.” How can anyone reject this logic? I don’t. And I am determined to do something about it. How about you?
I live in New York State. There’s a mountain here in Stamford that rises up along Route 10 just beyond the old ski hill, Deer Run. It’s not the highest peak around, but I feel as though it is. There is a wind twisted hawthorn that stands sentinel at the acme of this mountain, and I imagine it had been left behind by a sentimental logger who fancied himself “The Giver” and bestowed on the town…The Tree of Life. It can be seen for miles in every direction. I watch it throughout the seasons: On sunny days and rainy days…on windy days and the hottest of days. It never disappoints: it is always there. It is reliable. I
can go there to pray.
I mention the mountain with it's tree because today I felt compelled to go up there, and use it as a podium at the top of the world to announce: There is no preferred positioning where God is concerned! It doesn’t work that way.
LetItAllStartHere has given me some unexpected notoriety in the prayer circuit. I have become the go-to-girl, acting as a representative for those who feel that they may be less favored by the Divine. Let me explain:
In just the past few days, requests have come in for me to pray hard for a man living on borrowed time, whom I have never met. He needs a new heart. And, then, someone I did know-- someone who I heard openly curse God-- asked that I pray for a homeless man with “developmental disabilities” who had been featured on Facebook. I was to pray that his family would claim him as their own. By some strange twist of fate, they had managed to “misplace” him, and he had slept in cardboard boxes and had been eating gifts of Chinese take-out for the last three years! And, then there was a young man who was haunted by a past that he could not face. I was asked to pray that he receive courage and peace.
Certainly, it is not unusual for a Catholic community to pray for one another. It is like a trust fund of which we are benefactors: I will pray for you… you will pray for me. We will collect the prayers we’ve banked.
And yet, what I do find unusual is that non-practicing Catholics as well as non-believers are requesting these prayers. They are suddenly aware that prayer is needed…that God is needed, and they are not exactly shy to tell me they need assistance. But why won’t they do the asking themselves? I find it odd that they seem to have a problem with Catholicism, and yet they have no trouble asking a Catholic to intercede on their behalf. What is going on? I wonder what the Holy Spirit is up to.
But, I want to make this perfectly clear: I am happy to do it! If I can pray a man well, if I can comfort the lost by ensuring that God cares what is happening to them…well, then, I am doing the work Christ asks that we do. However, I would be even more delighted if I could get these folks to take the reins themselves. I would just like to point out this one thing: God prefers your prayers to mine. Jesus, Himself, declared: "… that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) That is your invitation to talk to God. Call Him, or text Him yourself! You don’t need a surrogate to do the work.
A few years ago, I felt like a failure in my prayer life. I didn’t think I was doing it right. I wasn’t being heard. I felt that I was just not good at it. I wasn’t getting anywhere. I went to a priest and asked him to intercede for me. That priest told me: He said, “There are no gold stars when you pray. There is no right way to do it.” He advised me to practice and be patient. Gave me some tips, told me to sit in front of the Tabernacle. He emphasized that I needed to keep working at it…stick with it…and don’t give up. At the time, I felt as if my life depended on getting it right. So I prayed as often as I could, never imagining that I would one day become “messenger” for so many people who needed to send a dispatch to God.