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The Perils of Being Catholic

Frankly, I don't have time to list all the perils of being Catholic. Suffice it say that I wholeheartedly agree with Flannery O'Connor's assessment: What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.

One peril of being Catholic is that you must attend Mass every Sunday, regardless of where you are at. That means, in the olden days, when we were on family vacations, the first thing Dad would do upon checking into a hotel is haul out the Yellow Pages to find the nearest church and Mass times. Now, things are a bit easier with the internet, but you still gotta go.

When I was in Louisville a few weeks ago, my friend and I decided to visit a church she had never been to. We found the address and Mass times, and off we went. It was a captivating church: lovingly restored, thoughtfully and tastefully done. It wasn't large, but there was much to please the eye - a beautiful domed altar, vaulted ceiling, incredible tromple l'eoil on the walls and around the altar. 

And in this glorious setting commenced one of the most inglorious Masses in which I've ever participated.

It was Saturday night, and there were not a lot of people there. The ones that were there could hardly be bothered to participate. There was no musician, and the cantor struggled, a capella, to get everyone to join in hymns that apparently no one knew (I certainly didn't). The elderly priest was clearly uncomfortable on bad knees, and his microphone caused such terrific feedback in the sound system that an usher rushed to shut it down. That meant the poor old man was left to shout the Mass and still, no one could hear him.  It was rushed, perfunctory, stilted....horrid.

Afterwards, my friend said, "I am so glad I didn't bring a non-Catholic with me. Imagine what they'd think of the Mass!"

Clearly, this was not one of our team's better efforts.

That's one of the perils of being Catholic: you have to go to Mass every week, and it's a crap-shoot. Sometimes you get sublime and sometimes you get ridiculous. One week, the sermon is thoughtfully crafted, articulate, and stirring. Another time, you wish you could bottle it as a sleep aid. One Sunday, you get the joyful music of a pipe organ and well-managed choir, and another week, you get a guy with an acoustic guitar and a dream of being the next American Idol. Ah, well. The perils of being Catholic.

But you see: it doesn't matter. Those are all just a bunch of accroutements.Yes, we are supposed to have the best music, the best atmosphere, the best sermon. It really is all supposed to come together in one outstanding human effort to bring us in touch with Eternity....but we are, after all, human. Some get what you get. But always always always - despite wretched music and dismal participation - what we get is the Eucharist, Christ's own Body and Blood, that which is the Saving Food and Drink. The true peril lies within each of us:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. (I Corinth. 11:27-29)

Good to remember the next time you want to complain about that inglorious Eucharistic celebration.


  1. Wow, that cartoon is really mean and rude. But I get you used it to make a point.

    It is definitely harder to be Catholic than to not, but the glories of having a close relationship with God also are exponentially better, at least for me.

    There is a certain style of mass that I prefer, but there is something to see in a different style of mass as well. Something that I'm uncomfortable with or not used to inspires me to work harder to feel God's presence there.

  2. Certainly didn't mean to offend with the cartoon. I really do like some of the music in that hymnal, but some of it is wretched, and I say that as both a listener and as a cantor. Some of it is just plain un-singable.


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