Thursday, April 26, 2012

Watered-down religion

I recently subbed for a funeral at a nearby church, and found myself not just getting annoyed, but also just very depressed. I was depressed at the watering-down of not only the liturgy, but also how that relates to the whole Gospel message--of not only salvation, but also repentance.

For example, at most funerals (assuming many people are guests and either un-churched or non-Catholic,) the priest says something like, "please kneel or be seated," or better yet, "please kneel," right before the Consecration. It shouldn't matter whether the people actually believe in what is happening; they should still show respect to what we consider extremely sacred, as they are in our church building. Even when the priest announces, "please kneel," I still see many people sitting instead of kneeling, which I suppose is their right, since perhaps if they really thought about it (and weren't just lazy as I imagine most of them are,) then they would realize that it could be idolotrous for them to kneel before something they don't believe in, but my point is that I do believe it's the responsibility of the priest to remind people that something sacred is happening, and their bodies should show as much respect as they are willing to. However, at this funeral, the priest asked everyone to remain standing. I do not know if that is the Sunday tradition at this parish (several of the choir members knelt still along with me,) but I wonder why the priest would say that? Nowhere in any Church documents is it given as an allowance for people to stand during the Consecration! Our bodies should reflect the attitude of our hearts- and I suspect the theology for wanting people to stand at this point would be a very warped idea that the focus at the moment would be on the people, standing united, and focusing on the Resurrection.  No. It should be on WORSHIP and ADORATION.

Anyhow, the more theological but less liturgical thing that really bothered me (and this is by no means unusual at funerals!) was the "canonization" of the deceased. While he may have been a very holy person, and a good and kind person, it makes me so sad when priest and people completely forget two things. First of all, Christ said "the Way is narrow, and few will enter it." How dare you assume that you know better than God where this person's soul is? Secondly, if we assume that someone is in heaven, then as Catholics we are completely ignoring the possibility of Purgatory, and that has dangerous and sad consequences for the deceased. If we assume they are in Heaven, and do not consider the possibility of them being in Purgatory, then we will not pray for their soul. And our prayers on earth can decrease the time spent in Purgatory and lessen their suffering. Isn't that what we should want for our deceased loved ones? To tell living family members that their loved one is in Heaven might make them feel good for awhile, but how does that help the suffering deceased soul?

Not to digress too much, but it was actually very weird what the priest said about being "Saints." I think at some point he may have actually said that the deceased was not a "Saint," but then he said something like, "We aren't Saints, but we are all saints!" I was like WTF?!?! I cannot believe that this man is a pastor. (Actually, I am not sure if this priest was the pastor, but ... I cannot believe that this man is ordained! You are trying to telling me that he spent how many years in seminary? and is now the guardian and shepherd of a flock?!) THEOLOGY 101, DUDE! IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO BE A SAINT UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD AND IN HEAVEN! And given that there were quite a few people in the church, I would bet my life savings on the fact that at least some of the people in that church building live very UNSAINTLY lives! How dare that priest think he knows the lives and everyone there, and even more how dare he assume that he knows we are all going to Heaven? The worst part of it is, by saying something like that, you are in no way calling people on to continue to seek out the Truth and to live better and holier lives; you are saying that they are doing just fine where they are at. We should NEVER be done striving for holiness. By saying otherwise, you are allowing people to become complacent- spiritual sloth = one of the seven deadly sins!

Now for the summary of my thoughts. Who would ever want to belong to such a religion? A religion that pats you on the back and tells you are doing a great job? A religion that tells you that you don't have to worship anything, that just coming to church and being a nice person is all that matters?

Until you find something worth dying for, you're not really living!

I don't know about you, but I would never die for such a religion.

And this priest thinks he can fill his church with trendy music and making people feel good about themselves. The scary part is, it somewhat works. At least for awhile. After a couple generations, the children and grandchildren stop coming, b/c they lose the sense of community in the parish, and the things I mentioned a couple paragraphs up certainly aren't reasons to keep coming to church.

And so who gains from this watered-down religion? Does the priest? Certainly not. "And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone fastened around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6.) Isn't that what a priest is doing by not only encouraging people to not show due respect for the Eucharist, but also encouraging everyone to come up and receive Communion? (as this priest did...I think it is safe to say that in any typical funeral congregation, there are non-Catholics and Catholics who have committed sins such as missing Mass...) And do any of the people gain by being patted on the back, instead of reminded of the suffering aspect of salvation; both of Christ's as well as the necessity of our own suffering and repentance? Certainly not. And I am so glad that's not what Catholicism is about, but that would be one darn boring and pointless religion!


Mara Joy said...

nobody seems to like this post. boo. :-(

Fr. Nate Harburg said...

I enjoyed, and was edified by, this post. It will help me especially the point about praying for the dead. Indeed, I will try to stress the need for this more strongly in future funeral homilies. Thank you.