The parish is blessed by a nascent Oratorian community of St. Philp Neri. I figured that I would get a flavor of their spirituality from the Advent event. The vibe of the parish was Novus Ordo throwback, with clerics wearing ornate vestments and an altar with lots of candles and a Benedict XVI inspired cross. Amongst the faithful, some chapel veils and several who reverently chose to partake the Eucharist on their knees.
|St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, Woodley Park, Washington, DC|
However, the celebrant of this sparsely attended First Saturday liturgy –whom I will charitably call Fr. Funny– was not an absolute adherent to the rubric, as he chose to leave the altar to be closer to the flock. Strictly speaking, this was not following the rubric but was understandable for the intimacy of this High Noon Mass.
The priest enthusiastically greeted the mainly young adult attendees for the Day of Recollection But he spotted me in the front and addressed comments towards “There is a man wearing a Marquette sweatshirt.” Fr. Funny sought to shake my hand as he exclaimed: “I’m am glad to see that you are here and that the Jesuits have not totally corrupted you.” I was stunned by the snipe but played along with the hinky homiletics so as not to cause a scene as we worshiped.
Rather than do exegesis on the readings, Fr. Funny focused on it being the last day of the liturgical year and how we were being drawn into a season of preparation. It was a time for cleaning, like that Marquette sweat shirt but more importantly our lives as we prepare for the Incarnation at Christmas. Rather than thinking about Advent’s character of repentance, I wondered if I needed a spot cleaner for my garb. But after this special attention from the homilist, I had to discern if my presence at this day of reflection was efficacious.
After the liturgy, I waited to have a word with Fr. Funny. I explained that I did not appreciate being singled out during his remarks. I drew from my Ignatian experience to remember the Presupposition, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. So I told the cleric that I trusted he was trying to be jocular. But I noted that as a layman, I will never be able to give a homily however could not condone bringing up even my grievances with some of the Society of Jesus’ practices from the pulpit. I noted that there were more conservative Jesuits like Fr. Fessio and Fr. Mitch Pacwa (the latter I could only describe as I was so incensed). The last time I was singled out during a homily was when a departing Jesuit pastor took parting shots because I noted that he was not following the GIRM by regularly dropping the Profession of Faith on Sundays.
To his credit, Fr. Funny patiently listened and offered an apology noting that he did not mean to be offensive but sought to jibe about the Jesuits. He hoped that the incident would not dissuade me from partaking in the afternoon of reflection.
Although I am not a shrinking violet who embarrasses easily, my visceral instinct was that the well had been proverbially poisoned. After the shepherd draws attention, the sheep will follow. Thus it was likely that the rest of my encounters that afternoon would be justifying my orthodoxy or being invited to rebuke the Jesuits.
While I was put off by the unsolicited attention during the homily, I was disturbed at a homilist who snarkily took snipes at ecclesial politics when he should have been explicating the Good News. The homily is part of the Liturgy of the Word (public worship). It is not a time for debate or disagreement.
Being called out at the pulpit made me question if I should be there. I already saw that the I was not a natural demographic fit for the retreat crowd. The jocularity during the homily was more than just a joke as it questioned my spiritual bona fides (though I was not COMPLETELY corrupted). As the animus against Ignatian practices was clear and exegesis was wont from the homily, I could see that the experience was going nowhere for me. I had a spouse who wanted my company to do holiday activities together thus ended that Pre-Advent experience. But not my time for reflection.
Aside from the personal affront, the episode made me think about good liturgy. I can understand when a celebrant makes some prefunctory recognitions from the ambo welcoming special visitors. But to use such a greeting as a guise to push a perspective on grace, good liturgy or Godliness was anathema.
As for the humorous jibe against another order, I appreciate that one of the charisms of St. Philip Neri was a wicked (sic) sense of humor which inspires a joyful heart. For someone who writes “Confessions of a Liturgy Snob”, I certain appreciate humor, especially the dry, tongue in cheek kind. However, sometimes a joke is more than a joke. As one who studied the Philosophy of Humor at Marquette, I know that jokes must have some elements of truth with a twist in order to be funny. There are lots of Jesuit jokes, and often members of the Society of Jesus are the best raconteurs of these witticisms. But sarcastic swipes from the pulpit are off-putting.
Even for homilist with whom I disagree, I welcome being challenged as long as they preach the gospel. But Catholicism embraces many different pieties, from prayerful liturgy to emphasizing social justice. So to have one tradition mocked from the altar was egregious.
A wise pastor lives his ministry by praising in public and chastising in private. Had the Jesuit jokes be given in another circumstance, a dialogue might have ensued in which the excesses of their SJ charism could have been lamented. However, when such a critique is given in a Mass, there is no opportunity to equivocate lest one further drag our public worship down from praising God in union with the heavenly hosts.
It is of dubious merit for a homilist to “work a room” when offering inspired commentary about the Liturgy of the Word. I have cringed when celebrant has performed “The Amazing Creskin” Q and A session during his sermon. Similarly, theatrical gestures like reaching out to glad hand Jesuit alumni while verbally sticking it to their teachers does not uplift us in applying the Good News to our lives but drags the divine to the diurnal.
I was discerning finding new pastures as my present parish and ecclesial associations are not as appealing. Regretfully, this episode certainly helped illuminate my way from one path.