Friday, May 16, 2014

City Slicker Catholicism

An unfortunate side effect of all the years I've been blogging as a Catholic - which is now almost six years - is that I run pretty much every Catholic experience and scenario I encounter through the lens of either the Catholic homeschoolers and/or the Traditional Catholics. I consider this state of affairs the equivalent to an unwanted illness, but at minimum this compulsion probably makes for good blogging.

For example, take this past weekend.

We were in northern Wisconsin on a little getaway, because the one-year anniversary of my Mom dying was basically Mother's Day weekend, and I just wanted to be somewhere else. Our location wasn't too far north, being about two and a half hours northwest of Milwaukee, but still in an area that people in Wisconsin would consider "up nort."

Naturally, being there for Mother's Day, we were faced with finding a mass to go to on Sunday. We've been in this location many times before, and quite frankly, the one Catholic church that represents the population of 6000 or so isn't our cup of tea. (I once blogged about the creepy decor at this church on the old blog.)  Plus their one Sunday mass time wasn't working out with being served breakfast at a B&B.

So this time, we tried something new and ventured about 20 miles further to a Catholic church in a town with a population of about 1900 people. Note that this church, too, had only one Sunday mass time. What we ended up with was an Indian priest (that we could understand fairly well) saying mass in a mid-1960's architectural church. Some elements of decor inside were traditional, but many more were modernist post-Vatican II. Before the mass readings, the kids were excused to go to kids' church, and we let Alan go because we were just visiting and he was driving us nuts anyway.

All good so far, right? I mean, at least in the sense of being an American Catholic parish.

But during the Eucharistic rite it happened. When the priest raised the consecrated host - and again when he raised the cup - he paused in silent reverence.....then started singing (with the whole congregation) a short sing-songy song about loving and adoring Jesus. Not once, but twice. Totally against any Church rubrics that exist, even while the words of the little song were beautiful and were completely intended to foster in people the idea that the Eucharistic Lord is present and to be adored. The little song went something like "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I adore you. Lay my life before you. How I love you."

It's at these moments that my husband and I will shoot each other a knowing look born more of surprise than of judgement. These looks betray our uncomfortableness at not having expected what happened and being weirded out at not knowing what to do when faced with innovations.

But this time, yeah, even though I was supposed to be engrossed in the sacrifice of the mass, here's the judgemental thoughts that were rolling around in my head this past Sunday when I was exposed to the "singing consecration": Whatcha gonna do about this liturgical weirdness, Traditional and conservative Catholics? Where ya gonna go? Where ya gonna hide? How far are you gonna drive to find a reverent mass (or Latin Mass) now, given that you're three to four hours from any major city that might have such a mass to go to?

Which led me to think that the ability to find and attend a "mass of your choice" is a city problem. Uber-reverent and Latin masses are for city slickers, because overall, it's only in large metropolitan areas where they can be found. Which also makes it......elitist.

Wait. Where have I heard that before? This is not the first time I've had similar thoughts.

You know, for every Catholic who lives in the cities and suburbs, there's another who lives out in bumblef*ck. And those folks pretty much have no choice or slim pickings about where they're gonna go to mass. It's usually "this place" or the "place a half hour or 45 minutes away." That's it!

What if your permanent Sunday mass choice was wreckovation with liturgical abuse -or- horrendous architecture with liturgical innovation? Or the priest so uninspired that his sermons make you nod off? Think about that. Because that's what many, many Catholics face as their day-to-day reality. And yet they survive, persist, and even thrive. Why is that?

Because they have learned to work through and accept the reality that the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church no matter what the surroundings. And that, my friends, is something I totally admire. Faith in the Catholic Church because, well, that's what you do. Because if they didn't, then they'd be shit out of luck. (Not to mention being in a state of mortal sin.)

Where we used to live, at one point, we had eight parishes to choose from. If we expanded our radius another 15 minutes, then we probably had another half dozen to add to the mix. And yet we were often unsatisfied and considered driving into Milwaukee County for 45+ minutes (and many times did) to go to a mass that was more to our liking. Boy do I feel like an asshole now that I think about it.

We finally live in Milwaukee County now and probably have 75+ parishes from which to choose, which means in essence, hundreds of masses we can pick over to personally fit our schedule. And yet, the homeschoolers in our area, well, over 60% of them all attend ONE parish because they refuse to attend anywhere else....nothing is good enough or holy enough or proper enough for them. Some of them drive an hour or more to go to this place, even while they have dozens of parishes around them to consider.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a "conservative" Catholic (whatever that means) and I'm not for liturgical abuse or innovation. I have a higher tolerance for it than other conservative Catholics, true. But overall, I'm not staying long at a parish that's all funked-out. Which is why we've yet to find and join a church in Milwaukee County. Believe me, there's been LOTS of interesting stuff we've experienced in our search -which I may or may not blog about in the future - but even then, it hasn't occurred to us to drive 45 minutes or an hour away to pick a parish. We just wouldn't do that. Not only is it a massive inconvenience, but the concept of driving that far or long for mass/parish participation pretty much smashes the concept of local community.

After the "interesting" mass we attended in this small northern Wisconsin town, I asked my husband: "If we lived here, which of the two churches would we pick to attend?" He was hard-pressed to give an answer and so was I. Ultimately, it would probably come down to the professed beliefs of the priest and the kinds of people who attended the church. Yet the more I thought about it, I recognized that the hard-pressed feeling had more to do with facing the reality of having TWO CHOICES for parish life instead of dozens upon dozens. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have to deal with such a situation.

Which brings me around to something that irritates the crap out of me. All these Latin Mass types on the internet whining and crying (or alternately bragging - all depends on the personality and the point they're trying to get across) about how they drive one, two, three hours just to go to a Latin mass. The expected response is to be awed at how utterly devoted they are to their Catholic faith because of the sacrifice they're making.

What about the sacrifice being made down the street at their local parish? You know, the one up on the altar?

I feel the same way about the local homeschooling community's "unofficial" endorsement of ONE parish and one parish only as the only legitimate novus ordo parish to consider in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Which I find hilarious since 90% of them live out in the suburbs, but this church is located in the Mexican ghetto of Milwaukee. (Disclosure: I volunteer at the food pantry at this parish because I'm currently interested in serving and seeing the faces of people who are legitimately need to see the face of Christ in servivce, but I am soooo not a member.) So, yeah, spend an hour driving in with your long skirts and chapel veils and then take off for the rest of the week. Nice! (If anyone reading this is actually part of the local homeschooling community and attends this parish, sorry, but this is how I really feel. Sue me. Ostracize me. Whatever.)

I'm up on my soapbox here and I know it. So, while I'm up here I'd like to remind everyone to consider what a BLESSING it is to have mass at all. I recently read the story of Father Joseph Kentenich's (Schoenstatt Movement) time in the Dauchau concentration camp during World War II. At various times, getting caught saying mass was punishable by death. Sometimes mass was said with smuggled wine in only a whisper with barbed wire, rats, and brick walls as the surrounding environment, and yet - that was good enough!

I am a City Slicker Catholic because I have too many choices, which makes me opinionated and entitled, which makes me an elitist. I sincerely believe this to be true. Did you hear me? I AM AN ELITIST. But maybe that's a bad thing? I'm considering that it might be!

What about you? Are you practicing City Slicker Catholicism? Do you feel you're entitled to the myriad of choices you have? Or are you stuck out somewhere where you're feeling lucky to have a parish nearby at all?


  1. yup, "city slicker" Catholic here, with more than one choice for a Mass I can appreciate. I never thought about how spoiled, and lucky, I am.

  2. Definite slicker here. 5 parishes right in town (less than 15 min) and another 5 if we go 10 more minutes. Definitely spoiled.

  3. Great post Charlotte. Seriously, one of your best ever, and I don't say that lightly since most of them are pretty darn good. I've completely cured myself of that affliction where all I used to do was look around and criticize in my head..the music, the decor, how the people were dressed (this was a big one for me). Now I just think about the "Mass Rocks" up in the mountains where the Irish used to go for Mass, where they could be sort of hidden. I remember my mother taking me up the hill to see one of these rocks, that my ancestors had to use. And think of all of the people today who can't practice their faith openly. So yes, so spoiled we are. And it's not that it's not ok to have preferences, but we need to mindful of keeping them in their proper place and perspective ~Catlady

  4. about driving an hour + when there are many churches closer to choose from- in the old days- you attended your geographical parish. period. Those people driving so far for a Sunday Mass are really missing out on the day to day parish life of a closer parish.

    1. Priests's Wife, thanks for mentioning this. I was gonna talk about how in the old days you went to the geographical parish that was assigned to you. We have come to the extreme opposite of that now - at least in the cities. Like I said, we too keep driving around looking for the mass that best suits us, but I am more and more wondering if that's a bad idea.

  5. ...and we don't need to look at history for examples of those dying and sacrificing for the faith- there's Ukraine, Sudan, Syria...

  6. Heck we could be living in Saudi Arabia where having a physical church/parish is illegal. ILLEGAL. I don't have a huge, huge choice. I have five parishes but the closest is 20 minutes away and then they are all further than that. However, a wonderful couple at my parish has a daughter who fits perfectly into what you're describing. She dislikes our priest for personal reasons and she and her husband do belong to another local parish but pride themselves on visiting the most "valid" parishes. There is a definite sense of pride in being "more Catholic than YOU" in her manner. And yes, she homeschools and blogs. So, you know...

  7. I'm spoiled too within a 15 minute drive I can attend at least 10 parishes and a Carmelite Chapel at a Mall, as well as a Catholic chapel at a hospital. I don't really care much about the décor or the dress of the people or the music for that matter. I'm more of a Daily Mass person myself. Sunday Mass is hard for me, no matter where I am. I just try to focus on Jesus and remember that the Eucharist is all I need, even if I have to put up with my peers!

  8. I live in a small city with three parishes. We live in close proximity to the Mexican border, and two of the three are predominately Mexican in culture. I live closest to the "anglo" parish, which means we only have a single Spanish Mass. Perhaps because of this, I find "internet Catholics" a strange breed. There are no Latin Masses where I live, no women wearing veils, no Catholic homeschoolers etc.. Yet, our Masses are normal and the people are just regular Catholics who send their kids to CCD on Sundays.

  9. I live in a small town about 60 miles north of a major city. We used to attend the very small parish here in town. We now drive 120 miles round trip on Sundays to attend Mass in the city. Maybe we're "elitist" or whatever, but really we could not tolerate the liturgical abuses anymore. Nor should we expect to have to tolerate it!

    I get the "bloom where you're planted" but when your soul is concerned, sometimes the local soil is too toxic to flourish.

    1. Anonymous: Twenty bucks says you're traveling 150 miles round trip to a Latin Mass. I dare you to tell me if that's the case.

    2. No. We attend an English novus ordo Mass. I don't veil. I wear well-fitting clothes. I wear pants.

      The Mass we attend simply does not have any of the local antics of the local priest and parishioners. We tried to make our local parish work for almost 4 years. Enough was enough.

      Donate the $20 you owe me to your local St. Vincent de Paul Society. ;-)

  10. Oh my goodness, thank you for this! (and your blog--I wish you lived closer! I totally agree with everything you write about and it would be awesome to meet up with a like-minded Catholic!) I'm not so much a city-slicker Catholic, but we do have more than two choices. None of them, except a parish we'd have to travel 30 minutes to (and where all the traditional, homeschooling Catholics go...many travel much longer than 30 minutes) fit our liturgical preferences. But we needed to officially join one of them to get our newest baby baptized, since we recently moved here. That really caused me to rethink my ideas on this issue--my first inclination was to join the more "traditional" parish (no Latin Mass...that would be an hour or more!) but then I realized that for us, it would be wrong. We needed to join a local community so we can get involved in parish life. A half hour drive with three young children isn't conducive to being a real part of the community. Plus, it was based on MY preferences. My often snooty preferences...sure, I could make a case that a parish, according to the rubrics, "shouldn't" be doing things that really annoy me, but it led me to such a self-righteous and judgmental attitude that I realized the thing BETTER for my soul would be to join a parish where there were a few of these "annoyances" but was closer geographically. It would help me overcome my pride and realize that no matter my preferences, if it's a valid Mass, Jesus IS THERE. And you know what? It's helped. Our parish has a beautiful community and we are friends with the pastor now. They do some things we would change if it were up to us, but I can listen to a David Haas song now without cringing and rolling my eyes. Because the people are singing with their whole hearts and loving Jesus as much as they can. God put us in this location for a reason, and so I figured we needed to trust Him and pick a parish close to us, because that's the way it was intended to be. I didn't want to be a "parish shopper" because I think that is a sign of spiritual dysfunction. If you absolutely CANNOT attend a certain parish because it just makes you "so angry" that they allow altar girls, well, I think your issue is bigger than just altar girls. Anyway, that's a novel, and I know people would disagree with me, but I have found it to be a huge help to my husband's and my spiritual lives. It is a bit of a "sacrifice" to deal with some things that we don't like, but it's been well worth it overall.

    1. Also, I figure our prayers make a difference. Someday we might be in a position to help change things "for the better." Until then, this experience has been humbling and surprisingly positive. So that's a good thing!

  11. I live in a diocese that covers 215,000 square miles and has 19 parishes and 21 missions. There is no Latin Mass and lots of Haugen and Haas. Our church is 'round' and we don't have kneelers. In 20 years, when most of our parish will be dead, I don't even know if our isolated town will be able to support daily Mass, never mind an in-residence priest. I am grateful that right now I have access to the Sacraments. When I hear all the whinging and whining online about picking the perfect parish I want to scream! All I know is that JESUS is at my Sunday Mass and He has not punished me with this parish. We are a family and we make the best of it and you know what - it's beautiful and it's real. Char - this is one of the best posts you have ever published.
    Angela M.

  12. I just discovered your blog, Charlotte, and I hope you don't mind a comment eight months later! I think City Slickers are spoiled and I have no patience listening to the complaints of internet Catholics about not being able to find a suitable Mass among the dozen + parishes in one's immediate vicinity. I live in a rural area, and Catholics here are suffering. We have only two Catholic churches in the entire county. The one I go to is in my town and has ~225 families, and the other church in the county, about the same size, is a 25 mile drive away. (The next closest parish is 45-50 rural miles away.) About a year ago, the two parishes in the county were clustered, which means we share a priest. Because our pastor was the one re-assigned to a new parish, the other church's pastor became our pastor too, and he maintains his residence at the other church. Instead of daily Mass 4 days a week, each parish has daily Mass 2 days a week. Mass times at both parishes were adjusted so that the priest says the Saturday Mass here at 4pm and then goes to the other parish to say the 6:30pm Mass. On Sunday, we have the 9am Mass here and then he goes there to say the 11am Mass. We alternate by year which parish has midnight Mass and which parish has the Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil services. The pastor can only do so much, and so it is not possible for him to be involved in the Donut Sunday, parish celebrations, various meetings, Stations of the Cross, etc, to the extent that our previous pastor was before we were clustered. I can not begin to describe the loss of parish life that has occurred since the cluster. We are doing the best we can, keeping the faith and doing what we can to develop an acceptable new normal. But please, all of you, appreciate what you have even though you *think* it may not be "suitable.". And most of all, nurture your children, especially your sons, to be open to God's call to the priesthood and religious life. We need more priests. Please pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood. God Bless.