Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Choose Your Own Excuse

One of the great things about the US is that we have freedom of religion. There is no official state religion. One can go to church, go church-hopping or forgo the ritual altogether. I wouldn't want this truth to change. I want people to want to be at church, not just counting the minutes they can get back to work or the television or the gym or the coffee shop. 

 My family converted to Catholicism when I was twelve, but I was always taught that the place to be on Sunday morning was a church. It was driven into me that church and God's love could do something for me and I kept that close. During college, I was going to classes full-time and working full-time. I was also the early morning cantor at the first Mass and then joined my family for the next Mass. Lord Jesus Christ, be merciful to me, a sinner- I am not perfect. I just decided that the Church is priority. 

People can choose not to participate in Church life. All churches have the challenge of people losing faith in God or needing Sunday as a day to recover from the work week or just the constantly changing demographics of the US. On the other hand- sometimes it just gets ridiculous. Here's some of my favorite excuses from devoutly practicing Roman or Byzantine rite Catholics who decide to not visit once/ to not visit again/ to not become a parishioner/ to not continue being a parishioner at their local Byzantine-rite mission:
  • Everybody is too friendly!
  • You're Hitler!
  • The priest breathed in the wrong place while singing the Gospel (yup.)
  • My first grade son needs to do his homework
  • My great-uncle was a priest and my family is screwed up
  • An hour is too long to drive
  • 15 minutes is too long to drive
  • It's too liberal (In the Byzantine rite, we generally don't stand during the entire Liturgy and aren't compelled to be completely vegan during fasting times like most Orthodox, we generally don't wear veils like traditionalist Roman-rite Catholic women)
  • It's too conservative (no altar girls, Liturgy is ad orientem, no 'extraordinary' ministers of the Eucharist)
  • I'd like to visit, but we are just so busy (in seven years, it is not a priority- that's okay)
  • There's too much old-country-language during Liturgy (said by old-country-language native speakers)
  • There's too much English during Liturgy (said by fluent bi-lingual speakers)
  • The music isn't professional enough (said by a professional musician)
  • The icons aren't beautiful enough; I'm taking my Catholic school students to the Orthodox church to learn about Eastern traditions
I've been putting off writing these words because I want to show only the beauty that is the Byzantine-rite, but something is really, really wrong when you have only 20 people for a beautiful Divine Liturgy in a church that has easy highway access, at a convenient time with a popular priest along with men serving various functions at the altar with icon blessings and a delicious dinner if one is so inclined. 

The Byzantine-rite isn't for everyone, but is it really for only 20 people out of a population of over a million? 

I pray for my husband's soul every day that he may walk in the ways of righteousness. All good priests are hated by the evil one, so I know he is under attack. He isn't perfect either, but he is one of the best all-around priests I have known in my life. Some might sing better or preach better or run a parish better, but considering all categories, he is a gift. He'll probably be upset that I have written these words; people from the old country do not like to air their dirty laundry. He just deserves so much more for his hard work and dedication; probably moving back to his country would be for the best (so long as Byzantine Catholicism isn't made illegal again and we are sent to prison).

Too Emotional? Too Judgmental? Perhaps- but this is my life....


  1. Your post made me laugh! :)
    I hear the exactly same excuses here, in my Ambrosian Catholic church in Milano, Italy.
    Well, in a way or another, the universality of Catholic Church is indeed true! :D

    Thank your husband for his care of his parishioners. I never thanked any of my priests, but now I think that I might to do so.

  2. Thank you for this very thoughtful post! As a Roman Rite Catholic I can't understand the disappointment you feel that so few choose to worship at your mission. I know that when we lived in a different state where Catholicism was more a cultural practice than where we are now, it was very frustrating to be in the small minority of parishioners who faithfully followed the Church's teachings. It was hard for me because I gave up so much to become Catholic (friends, unity in my family) and to see people take it for granted was and is very hard for me. I can get very frustrated. But I have to remember, we are all at a different point in our journey, so we just need to pray for the conversion of others to Christ.

    I will pray for you and your husband. It does seem like you have a beautiful parish and Rite with traditions that are life-giving (I love that you share a meal after the Divine Liturgy!). Take heart! With Christ, anything is possible!

  3. I don't think one can NOT be emotional nor judgmental when speaking about something that is an enormous part of one's life.

  4. I can relate. We have Catholics friends who fall into 1 of 2 categories...either they are sure we aren't really Catholic (we look too Orthodox, despite the fact that there is a portrait of the Holy Father in the narthex & that we pray for him by name several times throughout the Divine Liturgy)...or the Liturgy is just "too different" (there are no instruments, they cannot receive the Eucharist in their hands, they don't understand or agree with babies/small children receiving the Eucharist, the priest says one thing in Slavonic, the Filioque, etc., etc.) It just makes me sad. Yet, I remain so grateful that we found our little parish & for the reverent celebration of the DL. I can sadly say that we heard little from the Scriptures & nothing from the Early Church Fathers at the other parishes in town. Your husband & family are in our prayers! Please say a prayer for our transfer...we've been waiting 4 1/2 years for it. ~Patricia

  5. I loved this post! More rants and raves, please. :-)

  6. I can relate. I am a recent convert to Roman Catholicism. I feel like there is so much to be thankful for that those who complain or don't show up should just shut up. We have the liturgy. We have the Eucharist. We have the Pope. And yet I hear the "it's too far" "it's too early" "it's too late" "it's too traditional" "it's not traditional enough" "there's no girl servers" "the music isn't right" ect. ad nauseum. No parish can make everyone happy all the time. I guess for me it boils down to "Keep the Lord's Day Holy." I try to follow the other commandments, I figure I shouldn't blow this one off either.

  7. Mamamidwife- It is so important to keep the Lord's day holy- my mom even forbade us to listen to secular music on Sunday- it really helped set the day apart. and yes- people are busier than ever- so why can't we get organized and prepare for a day of rest- Church- then dinner (frozen or from a crock pot maybe)- a family video and family games or a park day- there is time for this

  8. There needs to be a shout from the rooftops about this. There will be an awakening for people and I hope it's not too late, for me too.

  9. I would ask that the Prayer of St. Ephrem be used as a filter of any ill feelings that come up through this post/thinking along these lines. I completely understand where you are coming from, but I guess my comment is that you may be looking too much at what others are doing/not doing. If we know that what we are doing is our very best to serve God and His Church through living and sharing our faith, we should not despair. We need to actively engage people with the depth of our Byzantine Christian Tradition, and leave the rest in God's hands. People will bring their excuses, and there is nothing we can do about it. So in a sense, it may be better to leave things like this unsaid. The shout from the rooftops that is truly needed is the Gospel, not the lack of people in our Churches. Forgive me, a Sinner.

    J.A. Deane

  10. J A Deane- yes, I see where you are coming from, and if you read my blog, I am usually satisfied with our micro-community. I do worry about the future. Despair is never the answer- thanks for reminding me, but also doing and saying nothing doesn't help either.

  11. Preoteasa,

    I agree that this isn't your general demeanor. Nevertheless, I would propose talking about our lack of numbers, etc., in terms of solutions.
    One great example of this comes from monks who are now of your jurisdiction (as I understand your background), who were once of my own jurisdiction. During those days of being Ruthenian, Abbot Nicholas wrote something that I think is still needed in our days. This is the link:

    I would submit that this issue of embracing multiple nationalities would strengthen our Eastern Catholic parishes. The OCA and other Orthodox have done a good job of arguing for this, but what if we could achieve this?

    I think this kind of shouting from the rooftops of working together and praying together, with the eventual goal of being together canonically/through our bishops, is going to help the cause of turning a micro-community into a macro-community.

    In XC,
    J.A. Deane

  12. Well, dear "Priest's wife", freedom of religion and State religion are not at all conflicting in my view: I am Belgian. In Belgium, Catholicism is State religion, but most of my co-subjects (of the King) are either not Catholic of not practising.
    The Catholic Church in Belgium is in a sad state, really. The pedophile crisis hitted us very much, with even a Bishop resigning for these reasons. And now, at the Te Deum Mass for the King, we had at the local church a mullah saying an extract from the coran in arabic just beetween the Gospel and the homily. Our Archbishop is a good and faithfull one, but he has no power: marxist laities control everything.
    Pray for us please. Thanks

  13. i've found that there are people who will ALWAYS find an excuse not to be at church (ok... guilty here on occasion) and people who will ALWAYS find something to criticize.

    i would have come and hung out with you guys while we were down south except that it would have been 2.5 to 3 hours each way in traffic. never mind that i'm not catholic (and probably will never be) -- i know that i and my little bear would be welcome.

  14. jen- you are always welcome- hope Little bear is doing better

    j a- I don't know how it would work canonically to combine ethnicities-but everyone should be encouraged to support fellow Byzantines- so if I am on vacation, I'll go to the closest Byzantine church even if it is a different jurisdiction- My husband has wondered if combining forces would be for the best- and if the priest and a great number of the community happened to be Slovak (for example)- then that ethnicity might take precedence- but we are still in the melting pot of the US- if any case, I think that most people (even 'plain old Americans') like a bit of ethnic flavor if they decide to attend a Byzantine church- yummy food, etc :)

  15. Aww, thanks PW for liking us Slovaks or Slovaks by marriage! :) Just kidding. I actually am a little confused by the ethnic divides, especially when my husband's family is Slovak and but have always attended a Ruthenian church, when there is a Slovak church in existence too. (I don't think there are any in our area.)

    The town where I grew up has three Roman parishes. It's not a huge town, either! I later learned that one parish was the "Irish" church, one was the "Polish" church and one was the "Italian" church. Historically, immigrants from those countries formed these parishes, but over the years, the divisions blurred. While I'm Polish & Irish, I attended the "Italian" church. DH's parish used to have two churches (the luxury! the size of the parish!) and one was Hungarian, the other Slovak. With time, the divisions blurred and only one church remains. Maybe this will happen in other Eastern churches as it did with ours?

    It's interesting that "combining forces" is mentioned here by others too. I think that while the ethnic traditions are wonderful and should be celebrated, drawing TOO much attention to them can be off-putting to those who aren't of that ethnicity and would otherwise love the Eastern Rites (no matter which church it was). Is this something that the younger generations are more open to? Sadly, we don't know any other young Byzantines--but both my husband and I don't fully understand the "only at the Ukranian church" or "the Hungarian church does this" mentality. We have attended liturgy at a Ukranian Greek Catholic church and it is almost identical to ones at our Ruthenian churches (we live equidistant between two, which have the same pastor right now).

    The Ukrainian church has one service in Ukranian, one in English. The first time we attended a liturgy there, it was a holy day (for that rite) and they do half & half. Slightly confusing! Our Ruthenian churches are solely English, and I don't think any of the old people mind the English, honestly. Of course, they either grew up, or came to this country when it was better to assimilate than to stick out. And then, who knows how much Romanization has taken place over the years...

    Back to your post--I have heard many of the same comments, directed at me and DH re: our attendance at a church 30 mins from our house. Including, "Why would you go there when St. (Roman parish) is literally a 2 min drive from your place???" How about because there are so many distractions one cannot get a sense of spiritual fulfillment! When older people are talking DURING Mass, and teenagers who should know better are goofing off and parents are not reprimanding them, WHY would I want to go to a church like that? But they DO remind you to silence your cell phones before Mass begins ::roll eyes::

  16. I pray that your parish will grow in numbers and in holiness. Many of those excuses apply to people who don't want to go to Mass anywhere.

  17. Unfortunately, I can relate all too well ... hang in there!

    Fr. Richard
    Priest, husband and father of seven young children, and the only Byzantine Catholic priest in all of Tennessee

  18. Rabbit- Ruthenians are more 'pan-Eastern European' so it might be more open to assimilation- divisions can be maddening when someone gives up the Byzantine rite because they can't find a ___________ ethnic church or maybe the priest is from the wrong region (!)
    If my orthodox Roman-rite friends from homeschooling park day came to a 'bonus' Liturgy once a month (our Liturgy is Saturday evening)as semi-permanent visitors, the church would be full... :( a girl can dream right?

  19. Fr Richard- through the magic of the internet, I found you (and your beautiful wife)- lots of prayers for you and your mission- you could have your wife email me through this blog if she ever has time

  20. Henri- about 'state religions'- the Eastern Catholics are still suffering from the problems brought on by communism in Central & Eastern Europe- for example: Catholic churches being confiscated by the state and not given back. Now, most people stay with the state religion because they can worship in the church of their great-grandfather and not a park or simple room or a church without all the icons, etc.

  21. Dear Priest's wife, it doesn't help much as I live in the UK but I can tell you that if I had access to a Byzantine Catholic parish I would be there like a flash (same with a FSSP/other TLM parish)! I try really hard not ot get distracted, as someone else said, but especially as a convert, it's really difficult sometimes to see people not appreciate the wonderful thing that is the Mass. It's even harder when you read the bulletin and spot multiple statements that contradict the Magisterium or have (as we did last week) a video projected beside the crucifix! I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like this either. You're not alone in your frustrations, and like I said, send a mission over to Hertfordshire, print me a phonetic Slavonic missal and I'll be there!

  22. Elizabeth- don't tempt me! I am a die-hard Anglophile- I lived in Eastern Europe for 4 years and never got to the UK- I just wasn't paid enough to travel...

  23. The Roman parishes are larger, with more "activities" going on, but usually less liturgical emphasis. It is possible to attend a Roman parish without really having it impact your life too much. Or, you can spend time on the many peace and justice activities without a spiritual emphasis. Don't misunderstand, we should strive for peace and justice, but it must be Christ centered, and it isnt always.

    Attending a Byzantine Church requires something from us. I mean this in two ways, really. First, the actual worship is not passive, it is active and so one must really engage. That is what appeals about it to me, but there are other Catholics that really prefer to get in and get out. My experience is that just cannot really be done when attending Divine Liturgy.

    The second way that something is required of us is in the fact that usually these are small communities. It isnt possible to attend regularly and be anonymous. There are demands on one's friendliness and hospitality and willingness to pitch in to do the things that need to be done.
    So, for some that is just too hard, or it can be that you find someone running things in the parish in such a way as to make people very uncomfortable.

    The ethnic "issue" can contribute to both sides of this equation. The Ruthenian parish that I belonged to had quite a number of Ukrainian immigrant families. As these families were here longer and their children were in the local public schools, they drifted from wanting to attend their ethnic church. One family in particular, the more religious daughter ended up marrying a Mormon, and the other attends Divine Liturgy on Easter, but is too busy being American to attend on Sundays. American culture itself does not support the kind of devotion and time commitment that properly belong to being part of a Byzantine parish.

    On the other side, in one of the other families, the daughter has a master's degree and is very successful in American terms, works in accounting in a large corporation. However, at home they always spoke Ukrainian, she went home to Ukraine to find a husband and she speaks Ukrainian mostly to her two little girls. She attends Divine Liturgy every Sunday and some feast days. So, I think the ethnic thing is kind of a red herring, it is really the Americanization and the conflict that arises there that is more of a problem.

    The parish that I used to attend is declining in attendance, most of the children of the immigrants have moved on.

    What to fix it? I wish I knew, I would be back in the Byzantine Church in a heartbeat.

  24. OregonMom- yes yes and yes- I hear you! :) and we have to pray for those who let the busy-ness of the USA destroy their spiritual life; it is really sad

  25. If people are put off by priests from the wrong region, heaven help them if they get some of the Irish-surnamed Byz priests who are out there! Or those who were born here in the US! :)

    Oregon Mom--you are NOT alone in your thoughts. Our priest calls Roman Masses "shake & bake." LOL But your comments re: commitment and devotion made me think about Protestants who attend services all day on Sundays or even twice a day on Sunday, with a long stretch in between where they go home. They manage to do it. Eastern liturgies are longer than Masses and we all manage to get things done (or almost done). Our church's liturgies, in particular, are about 1.5 hrs--don't know if that's typical? Then we have a 1/2 hr drive each way, so that's almost 3 hours of a Sunday gone. My husband jokes that to get more people in the Eastern church, we should look towards some of the Protestant denominations.

  26. We have a phenomenal Roman Catholic priest right now, so I want to be sure not to be seen as painting with too broad of a brush. But, it is also true that the parish we have recently joined doesnt want him to bother them with too much liturgical stuff, they need to be able to plan their fundraisers and such. All those years of bad catechesis is coming home to roost. Vespers, they wonder, what is that and why do it?

    It is so important to pray for our faithful priests, especially that they dont get discouraged in their trials and endeavors.

    But, in your situation, Priest's wife, what can be done to improve the situation? How to bring in more people? At one point in my Byzantine parish that I attended, we were really growing. We had more regular parishioners, as well as a slew of regular visitors. It was wonderful! That was right before the priest was assigned elsewhere and the whole thing fell apart rather quickly. It took many years to get to that growth spurt, though. Maybe the location(if I understand correctly is rather recent) will bring more in, it just hasn't caught on yet. We will pray for more success in that endeavor.

    Are you giving serious consideration to going to Father's country?

  27. Oh, I feel bad now, Fr. Richard. I lived in Maryville when your mission started and was out in the boondocks. I always curious to go visit but never managed to do it. Now I live outside of Nashville and I don't think there is anything around here to go visit. :(

    Try not to get discouraged Priest's Wife. I am a member of the newest (I think) parish in the Nashville diocese. While we definitely have more than 20 members, getting the buy-in from the people has been rough. We have over 500 registered families and probably less than 100 people that show up for anything other than Mass (that's not 100 all at once, but about 100 who would consider showing up for the other stuff).


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