discipline and community

My mind may wander during Mass, I may glance around looking for familiar faces among the congregation, smile when a friend recognizes me, admire Father Brian’s recently purchased vestments, puzzle over the types of flowers arranged in vases around the altar. But when we sit and Father begins the homily, he has my undivided attention. My husband agrees that our pastor has a gift for public speaking.

I’m sorry to say I’ve no idea what the Gospel was about. I was lost in thought attempting to make sense of the previous reading, the Epistle. The woman seemed not to understand what she was reading so she stumbled over the words, saying “disciple” instead of “discipline.” I’m always impressed by these volunteers who must appear to understand the words set in front of them, even though they may not grasp their full meaning. Some may take a few minutes before Mass to familiarize themselves with their task, but it’s not always possible to do so, I’m sure. So while Father was reading the Gospel, I was probably feeling sorry for the previous speaker, and thanking God that I had not been in her shoes. Unlike her, I would have been blushing to my white roots.

My ears perk up when I hear Father speaking “regular” English for it makes comprehending simpler; narratives in the Bible require that I focus. And as I’ve said, my mind is multi-tasking. When Father begins with some personal anecdote everyone seems to straighten up, and tune in to what he’s saying.

Father spoke of his early days as a seminarian, and how difficult it was to learn discipline. He did not relate well with the first person charged with instructing the novices. He did better with the next person, the “student master,” who would explain the reason for leveling discipline upon those in his care. When students at the UofW Newman Center asked Father Brian to join them for a weekend retreat, the ‘student master” denied the request. When Father asked if he might attend the wedding of friends elsewhere, he was again denied. The explanation given for the denials was that he needed to focus on the vocation he had chosen, and the community in which he lived. He needed to learn discipline, understanding that he could not have his way in everything. As Father’s words washed over me, I pondered their meaning for me.

Over breakfast my husband and I discussed the homily.  I explained that as Father spoke, I could feel myself turning inward, humbling myself as Catholics of my era are wont to do. Talk about “glass ceilings,” I think Catholicism cornered the market on that centuries before it ever occurred to feminists trying to work their way up the corporate ladder.  Throughout the 12 years I was schooled by nuns from Boston, we students were constantly reminded about our need for humility. So I wondered if I was confusing the need for discipline with the need to be humble, as taught by my religion. 

I was interested in my husband’s perspective since, having been a seminarian, I assumed he’d had more theology than me. Ever the pragmatist he replied that his theological schooling had not exceeded mine and furthermore, every person needed discipline within himself, that it had nothing to do with religion. He was right.

Without self-discipline, we usurp the rights of others, including other species which share our natural resources. Without self-discipline, personal happiness eludes us because we are never satisfied unless we have more. Without self-discipline, we set ourselves apart from our community. Without self-discipline, we are unable to teach our children the values necessary for their evolution as good citizens. 

I think having humility might make it easier to learn self-discipline; but having self-discipline doesn’t guarantee humility. Being a Catholic raised in the 50’s and 60’s, I have to be careful not to mistake being humble with self-reproachment. Catholics of my generation bought into the guilt trip, “hook, line and sinker.” So while I humbly acknowledge my gift for writing, I realize that with it comes the need for discipline, knowing that I have a responsibility to my readers in what I say, and how I say it. I think all writers have that responsibility, though some may not think so.

While I paid no heed to God’s gospel, I think I got Father Brian’s homily. I think I’ll need him as a middle-man to gain entrance to Heaven. Father speaks my language, “regular” English.

pray for me…hugmamma.

a friendly place

Getting up for 8:15 Mass is a struggle. I’m not a morning person, as I’ve said in previous posts. So making it to exercise and church services is a labor of love, or else insanity, maybe both. The “drawing card” for me are the teachers, Kristina at the gym, and Father Brian at St. Joseph’s. Their common denominator is their compassionate, warm, “open” personalities. Neither basks in the limelight, rather they are humbly passionate about spreading their messages, Kristina “speaks” to exercise as essential for our well-being; Father Brian shares the gospel that God loves and cares for all of us.

Probably the youngest priest I’ve ever encountered as pastor of a parish, Father Brian, is a natural-born “shepherd.” He gathers his parishioners, his “sheep,” about him, with concern for our safe deliverance into the hands of God, our Maker. He doesn’t prod us with pokers, rather he relates stories, personal or biblical, which encourages us to think and to decide by what values we should live. The church fills with laughter when Father Brian tells a joke or humorous anecdote. He’s not even above pointing a finger at himself, whether in fun or to confirm that he too is human. His manner is easy, his smiles always forthcoming. He is accepting of ways that are different from his. If there are rules, and there must be, by which the parish operates, they do not seem “set in stone.” Perhaps his youthfulness and relative newness to pastoral duties has him proceeding with caution, allowing himself to blend into the congregation’s routine, to become one with, not one above, us.

Today my ears were extra perked when listening to Father’ sermon. He spoke of our need to focus upon the “small things” in our lives. These, he said, are the building blocks of the kingdom of Heaven. God does not reward us for “flash”, but rather for what we do “behind the scenes.” As stewards of God’s gifts, our services toward and on behalf of one another will be rewarded. Our faithfulness will be recognized. Romans 12:6-8 from The New Testament testifies to this:

“We each have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” 

As an introduction to his homily, Father Brian spoke of witnessing small, but meaningful, human gestures that “built up the Kingdom of God.” Friends from out-of-town were visiting with him. A couple and their 2 daughters visited the popular tourist attractions. In their comings and goings, Father witnessed the loving care bestowed upon the littlest child by her sister and her parents.

On a recent visit with his elderly grandparents at their assisted living facility, Father celebrated the Mass in their apartment, the 3 huddling together. At the “kiss of peace”, his grandparents turned and pecked each other on the cheek, mouthing the words “I love you” to one another. This demonstration of their affection spoke volumes of their 67 year-long marriage.

After weekday Mass one morning, Father Brian noticed a lone woman moving through the pews, collecting congregation booklets, which she would then return to their housing. On another occasion, a parishioner asked Father if she could bring flowers from her garden to place around the altar. Walking over to it, he fingered one of the daisies, lovingly displayed in a vase. Matching arrangements were staged prominently in other areas.

It is obvious that Father Brian is like family to his parishioners. He freely speaks to us of his mother, other relatives, his friends, his love of basketball, his personal impressions of a recent visit to the Vatican, and his own faith journey. And he eagerly awaits us outside after Mass, shaking hands and smiling broadly. He always remembers our daughter, though she’s not a regular. Because he attracts everyone with his charismatic style, I said to Father Brian one day “You could be a rock star!” To which he replied, after letting out a belly laugh, “Jesus is the rock star!”

no “Hell, fire and brimstone” here, only warmth…hugmamma