Friday, September 11, 2015

The Stability of Ritual: When Your World is Chaos,Turn to the Mass

In Thursday night's Late Show interview with Stephen Colbert, Vice President Joe Biden, speaking about the role of his Catholic faith in dealing with the loss of his son, said this about the Mass, the Rosary and the comfort he derives from the regular practice of his faith:

“Some of it relates to ritual, some if relates to just comfort and what you’ve done your whole life.”

Bingo. When your whole world is sliding into emotional chaos, the familiar ritual of the Mass can be an island of calm - an anchor in a stormy sea. While Biden might not be able to name why this is so, he knows it in his heart.

I first discovered this truth while attending Mass each week during my RCIA experience, I quickly grew to love the ritual words and actions. I felt I had come "home." For an hour, I could leave my cares behind and enter into a time outside of time. It simply felt "right." Later, I stumbled into the Sunday morning choir Mass one day after my husband had asked for a divorce and received solace not only from fellow choir members, but from participating in the familiar postures, gestures, words and song of the Mass. There was definitely something healing in that experience  for me that day.

In other times of loss or transition through the years, I have similarly found relief in the Mass, most notably six years ago, when the man I loved died suddenly. For the first few months, I remember fighting tears often as song lyrics and Mass prayers caused me emotional turmoil, but I also remember a strong sense of the Mass as a trustworthy anchor in which I felt the presence of God.

The human need for ritual has been well-documented by anthropologists - and more recently, scientists. It's so strong, that even those who don't attend church tend to gravitate toward activities that involve ritual elements (such as sports) or to create "new traditions."

Yet the Mass, as divine ritual, is so much more than mere human rituals. Imbued with the very person of Jesus Christ, present in the gathered people, the person of the priest, the Word and the Eucharist, the Mass joins us to all times, places and believers, including those in Heaven. In remembering Jesus's Paschal Mystery, we discover its power among us today, and taste its future glory. We hear the words of the one who was, is and always will be the Word. We dine at the Eucharistic banquet along with angels, saints and holy ones gathered at the heavenly banquet.

The Mass is quite simply the Ritual of Rituals. It is the summit, the highest form of solemn ceremony, because its roots are in the words and actions of Jesus and his Apostles. So, when Joe Biden says he found "comfort" in the ritual elements of his faith, it's nothing to sneeze at. The spiritual consolations we receive from the Mass are real and important. They are certainly not the only reason we go to Mass, but they may be, in part, what gets people to repeat their participation.

Joe Biden, like many Catholics, rediscovers his center at the Mass, even while suffering the deep grief of a parent who has lost a child. “I go to Mass, and I’m able to be just alone, even in a crowd,”he said. While this is possibly not fully articulated, he appears to be trying to express the holiness and peace he finds, even while part of the gathered assembly. We are one with God, at the same time we are one with each other. In that, we find our deepest selves.

The Mass affords us all an opportunity to experience the dependable love of God, which like the ritual through which it is expressed, is unchanging. May all Catholics who struggle, like Joe Biden, find their peace and hope in the power of the Mass.

Colbert Opens the Door - Joe Biden Walks Right In: A Catholic Evangelization Moment on National TV

Last night, Stephen Colbert (who is not at all shy about his Catholic faith) conducted an extraordinary interview of Vice President Joe Biden - and Biden, in simple, heartfelt sincerity, shared how his Catholic faith, going to Mass and saying the Rosary, have been instrumental in his emotional survival of the death of his son Beau. It was one of the best Catholic moments on TV.
After some initial small talk, Colbert skillfully navigates the conversation to faith, knowing full well he is speaking to a faithful Catholic man. At this point, the tone of the interview takes on a quality of deep sincerity, as Biden begins by expressing humility and a sense that he is not the only worthy example. After describing briefly the role of his faith, Biden concludes: "So many of the good things of my life have happened around the culture of my religion and the theology of my religion."   Watch it here:

The second half of the interview turns to the role of the Vice President, but again back to navigating the landscape of loss...  the underlying message, however, is a strong testimony to Biden's character, to family, and indirectly, to faith.

All I can say is that this is very powerful stuff, even when sprinkled with the obligatory late-night jokes. These two talked about things that matter last night.

I find myself deeply affected. I hope that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will provide us with many more such moments where the beauty and value of Catholic faith are lifted up in a positive light. Colbert sits in a position to deliver the message in a unique and powerful way, laced with his trademark humor and fully engaging the world.  This could be one of the most significant Catholic evangelization platforms ever.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On the Air

It's been a while since I posted in this space. But don't think I have spent the summer relaxing. That would so not be "me." Actually, I've been busy. Really, really busy.

Yesterday, I was privileged to participate in a stimulating, high-energy interview with my friend and colleague Jonathan Sullivan on liturgical catechesis, in which we spoke of many things, including the importance of how catechists go about encouraging families to participate in the liturgy. You can view it here (Warning: I do tend to "get going.")

This comes at the end of a summer that also included preparing for a national webinar for Liturgy Training Publications on getting families to Mass, and completing a book and teacher's guide for children, grades 3-6 on the Mass. (publication date TBA)

Combine that with a busy summer at work and the usual gearing up at the beginning of the catechetical year, which starts in mid July and will continue until October, I hope you can see why blogging has taken a back seat to other projects. More in this space as I find time and inspiration...