Catholic Paths

March 6th, 2020

Karin and I try to go to daily Mass at St. Rita’s. If we plan on attending the liturgy, we usually try to get to the church early in order to participate in morning prayer.

What is morning prayer? It’s a Catholic thing, obviously. Generally, it is a ten-minute-long spiritual exercise that is common to monastic communities, mandatory for priests, and virtually unknown to the laity. Karin and I are familiar with it, partly because we are in the habit of visiting monasteries, and partly because morning prayer was the usual practice at our church when it was run by members of the Augustinian order. The Augustinians have left us, but our new diocesan priest has kept up the practice.

We have very few people show up for morning prayer. When the Augustinians were at our church, there were a few more. Now it’s just a remnant. It is usually just Father Michael, Kathy, Barbara, Karin, and me.

Kathy is our age (older). She has a farm nearby, and she has horses. She shows up in her work clothes. She takes care of her animals prior to coming to pray. That is a very good thing. Kathy tends to get caught up in mystical things. She is big into Padre Pio and his miracles. Kathy has a button on her coat that says, “Pray to end abortions”.

I think about that. What is she actually praying for?

I haven’t asked Kathy, so I can’t really know. I’m not sure that I want to know.

Most people who wear a pin like that are obssessed with banning abortion in all of its aspects. That might be a worthy goal, but it can also a ruthless goal. I have spent some time with anti-abortionists, and they are often a very single-minded and zealous lot. I agree with them for the most part, but I dislike the feel of fanaticism.

Winston Churchill once said, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

I have met a fanatic or two in my time.

I have met Catholics who want to be modern day versions of Martin Luther. They want radical reform in an organization that changes direction as easily as an aircraft carrier. The Church, for better or worse, defaults on the side of Tradition. The true zealots on the left eventually become Protestants.

A friend of mine once asked me mockingly if I was still infatuated with the Catholic Church. I’m not. There are many things I don’t like about the Church. However, it is my family. It is often a family like the Corleones, but it is still my family. I don’t plan on abandoning it. It’s where I belong, although I can’t really explain why.

Yesterday I took a young woman to her various appointments. She has no drivers license, and she needs me for transportation. I dropped her off at an AA meeting in West Allis. That gave me almost an hour to kill before I needed to pick her up. I briefly considered visiting my elderly bachelor uncles, but then I remembered how they threw me out of their house five years ago. So, I decided to wander around the business district on Greenfield Avenue.

Quite close to the Alcoholics Anonymous office is a Catholic bookstore. I went there. There was a sign in the window that said, “Stand up for religious freedom!” That statement suggests many things, but currently it means allowing Christians to be exempt from certain federal laws, especially with regard to abortions, birth control, and LGBTQ issues. Maybe we should be exempt. I don’t know. All I know is that people like to use codewords.

The bookstore itself was not unusual. Religious bookstores appeal to a certain clientele, just like any other kind of bookstore. A person can tell a lot about the customers at a particular Catholic bookstore just by wandering past the shelves. Almost all Catholic bookstores have the classics: works from St. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton. A bookstore affiliated with a certain religious order will have plenty of volumes concerning the history of that community. For instance, in a Carmelite bookstore a person would finds rows of books about St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and Edith Stein. Catholic stores that cater to a more “progressive” population will have books by or about Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Thomas Merton, and Pope Francis. The place that I visited was pretty old school. There were many books from Scott Hahn, Fulton Sheen, Saint John Paul II, and especially Pope Benedict. Most everything in the shop was about the good old days, whenever that was.

There were only two other customers in the store; two older women who obviously knew each other well. They were talking together loudly. As I looked at the books, I could hear them in the background like they were on talk radio. I couldn’t tune them out. They discussed priests that they knew, prayer services (“we were singing in Latin“), local Lenten fish fries, Eucharistic adoration vigils, and some other esoteric aspects of traditional Catholicism (American version). Eventually, they got to the part of the conversation where they complained about their adult children who had fallen away from the Faith. Almost all Catholic parents in the U.S. have that kind of lament. It’s standard at this point in history.

“Catholic” means “universal”.  It amazes me at times to see just how diverse the Church is. From the outside, the Catholic Church appears monolithic. From the inside, it’s often utter chaos. It stands to reason that any organization that has existed for two millenia and allegedly has one billion members, is going to be a bit unwieldly. I find it interesting that, at times, I have very little in common with some of my coreligionists, and, at other times, I have everything in common with them.






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