Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Report from the Field

I’d like to share a bit of what I experienced when I was away—not so much the family reunion or the good food or even the autumn colors, which I will simply hold in memory, but rather some things that prompted reflections on the experience of God and the Church, for better or worse.

Since it takes the better part of a day to get from California to New York, I prayed the Offices on the planes. Actually, I began while waiting at the gate. I was surrounded by the excitement of vacationing families and the boredom of businessmen on yet another trip. A cell phone was attached to every ear in the place, and the chatter was unceasing. It would have been impossible to exclude everything that went on around me, in order to enter a silent world of prayer, so I didn’t even try. Nor did I have the sense that I was the “holy one” praying while everyone else drank coffee or listened to their iPods. I did experience, however, a kind of secret joy in being able to praise the Lord while all were apparently oblivious to Him. Yet I had the sense that we were all together, that I was praying for them, as one of them, yet as one called to represent them. And I think the Lord’s blessing was upon us all.

Then it was on to the plane. While the inside of the planes did not provide the best environment for prayer, what I saw outside was inspiring indeed. On one flight I saw the moon rising over the clouds, and the brilliant sun making them all look like a snowy infinity. I was in a position at one point to see the shadow of the jet in a circle of light on the clouds. I also had the unique (for me) experience of being at the source of the heaven-like rays of the sun that pierce the clouds from time to time. On the ground, we see the rays coming down from the sun through the clouds, but I was able to see the rays going down to the earth from above—quite a different perspective! And as we took off on the return trip, the colored trees looked like a vast field of poppies as far as the eye could see.

So I rejoiced to pray: “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights. Praise Him all his angels, praise Him all his hosts. Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, shining stars. Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord; He commanded, they were made…” (Ps. 148).

Oddly enough, my experience of God in airports and jets over the clouds was for the most part much more inspiring that what I experienced in his Church. Aside from the two Divine Liturgies I celebrated at the Ukrainian church (my “home” parish) on the weekend for the family events—which were filled with light and joy and an abundance of grace—I was deeply disappointed and almost horrified at what I experienced at daily Masses in two different Roman Catholic parishes. In one the homilist flatly denied one of the dogmas of the Church and gave a bizarre, subjective, and meaningless interpretation of it that seemed to suit his own lack of faith (and he changed a few of the words of the consecration). Ironically, in the epistle of the day, St Paul declared: “If anyone brings you a different ‘gospel’ than the one you have received, let him be condemned!” I stayed afterward to pray the rosary with a few old ladies. I recognized one old couple and later made sure that they knew that what Father had said in his homily was a load of b.s. (though I didn’t put it quite that way!).

In the other parish, the priest ad-libbed almost the entire Mass, with his own rambling commentary added to (or substituting for) the liturgical texts. Pardon me, Father, but I’m not interested in your personal opinions, your rewriting the texts of the Mass, or your “take” on whatever issue happens to surface in your mind during the Mass! I come here to worship God in communion with his whole Church, not to watch some ludicrous sideshow! Somehow, in one homily, he managed to teach us that the Ten Commandments are not binding upon us, that Christians were responsible for the Holocaust, and that Jesus couldn’t care less if we have women priests—in fact, those stodgy old hierarchs in Rome are forcing male priests on the Church against God’s will!

Then there was a great ruckus in another parish. One of the priests who was there for a long time had to leave (against his will—too orthodox, or he somehow ruffled liberal episcopal feathers). His replacement, evidently a good priest, but not to the liking of the more influential parishioners, was threatened. After his first Mass a number of parishioners encircled him like mafia hit-men and said: “We’re gonna to take you down!” Next followed threatening graffiti on his garage door and nails in the tires of his car.

What the hell is going on? By saying it that way, I think I answered my own question. Pope Paul VI said that the “smoke of satan” had entered the church, and things sure were smoky in these parishes—and this in a little town in upstate New York! I was deeply grieved by all of this, and discouraged to see the Bride of Christ so battered. I nearly wept when I saw the priest grab the chalice of Precious Blood with one hand and quickly toss it back as if it were a flagon of ale, bang it back down on the altar, and then lumber down to distribute Communion. Can someone really believe that this is the Body and Blood of Christ and still behave with such shameful irreverence?

Perhaps the Lord wanted me to see all that to realize just how urgent is the need for prayer for the restoration of true faith and worship in the Church, for the conversion of those who would lead others astray or defile the holy sanctuary of the Lord.

All in all, the trip was very blessed, but I returned with a burden to pray specially for the healing of the Church and for its renewal in the grace of the Holy Spirit. I was glad to return to the monastery, where the Gospel and the Tradition are still alive and unadulterated by silliness, heresy, and the blowing of dissenting horns. The Lord will surely have the last word, but let us pray that He speak it soon!