When my home parish’s church still existed, it was perfectly designed for kneeling, from the front pew to the very last row in the choir loft. Prayer and praise were formed into my bones by those old wood pews and those red kneelers. But for many years, I’ve been in a position where I couldn’t kneel at Mass. Parishes I attended were set up with chairs lined up too close to permit kneeling (or even walking other than crabwise). Choirs I was in were set up similarly, or with precariously small risers. And then, there’s the parishes where the priest orders everybody not to kneel. They’ll talk about it being “the custom of the parish,” but really, you know it’s the priest’s authority that’s backing it up. In my case, since I often attend such parishes with my parents and they obey the priest, I’m faced with obeying both my spiritual fathers and my biological ones. There’s not much to do, other than comfort oneself with the scripture about one being permitted to bow to Mammon for one’s father’s sake. In this case, one is presumably permitted to not bow to God.
But it’s astonishing how much lowering-of-the-boom is done against people who are captive audiences. If you’re Catholic, you have to go to Catholic Mass. If there isn’t another Mass that’s within range… Lord, where else can we go?
I’m working a job that’s non-stop exhausting and not particularly well-paid; and there’s not a person there who can’t be fired tomorrow, for almost any reason. I’m on the edge, both emotionally and physically. That woman who died of the flu (and several other diseases) is two degrees of separation away from me and the other people at my workplace; we carefully don’t think about that. The dress code is strict; the temperature fluctuates wildly through the day; every mouse click and tone of voice is monitored and criticized.
And when I go to church, I can’t even kneel like a free Catholic worshipping her God. I have to stand where there’s no room to stand, sit on chairs where there’s no room to sit, and try to obey cheerfully in a world gone mad.
Meanwhile, I know another Catholic who’s a great person, works hard to the point of exhaustion for the glory of God, spreads the Gospel cheerfully and brings many souls to Him — and who was filled with anger and sorrow because of this speech, which mostly seems like sober reasoning to me. I don’t know where his beef is, so to speak; I really couldn’t ask when I heard about it. However, it seems that although the convention used to be for people running Catholic campus ministry, it was changed this year to be a convention for campus Catholics and non-Catholic seekers, and that nobody bothered to tell most of the speakers this. So the speech might seem disconnected; and perhaps someone doing successful evangelization (including of young people) would be less than thrilled by someone making a speech declaring evangelization of the young to be hard to do.
But yeah, I don’t get it, any more than he understands why my heart is so broken by not being able to kneel. He’s gone to churches always where they didn’t kneel, I guess, or it never really meant anything special to him. I’ve tried to talk about it, but there’s nothing I can say. I shouldn’t have to explain why I don’t want the sky to be green; and I guess neither should he. From his point of view, my mind and body should be ecstatically happy doing the same thing as everybody else. It should make me feel full of togetherness and joy to stand up in God’s presence. Even if standing up, for me, mostly means standing in my cube with my hand raised in the appropriate signal, desperately trying to get a supervisor’s attention, while a customer screams in my ear for something I can’t give, and sitting is the position of my eight hours of desperate paperwork while trying to keep up conversation.
Only kneeling is freedom and joy, and kneeling is what I’m not allowed to do. Even in church, I cannot be a free citizen of the Kingdom; I must continue in the positions of servitude and helplessness. In the name of being somehow more free!
And yet, these churches do good work, just as my friend does. The Mass is the Mass, and I’m lucky to have it. My parents love me and do so much for me. I ought to be able to take the good and ignore the bad, but I can’t.
I don’t know how we’re going to heal this sort of thing. Surely the old ethnic splits between the Irish and the German parishes could never have been this bad… and yet I know they were. There were people who thought instruments were intrinsically Protestant, and people who thought the parish chamber orchestra was an intrinsically Catholic institution. Time healed our ethnic parishes to the point that few remember… and yet, a lot of hearts were needlessly broken first.
Well, the servant isn’t greater than the Master. We are supposed to break, to be chewed up and swallowed up, to die in every way except eternally. I’ve been a fool and a sinner all my life; it should be no great trick for me to break and break and become nothing. But I’m not as good at it as St. Catherine of Siena. I wish this were a quick martyrdom of blood, instead of a long fight against despair.
Maranatha. Lord Jesus, come. You will have to be my courage, because I have nothing, not even that.