When East Meets West…

“…there’s gonna be one hell of a mess.” (Warlock, led by Doro Pesch [1987])

When you hear the word “Catholic,” you most likely think of the Roman (or Western) Catholic Church, headed by Pope Francis in Rome. However, there is also a much smaller segment of the Catholic Church known as the Eastern Rite, whose traditions are flavored with the cultures of the Ukraine, Armenia, Greece, and many other countries, depending on which branch of the Eastern Church you adhere to or visit. The Eastern Church is still led by Pope Francis, but its bishops are different from Roman bishops, and when you walk into an Eastern service, you wonder if you’re even in a Catholic parish at all. The closest thing to compare it to would be an Orthodox service (which I haven’t been to, but that’s what I’ve heard).

My husband has been having a dalliance with the Eastern Church recently, so this past Saturday, we went an afternoon Divine Liturgy (the equivalent of the Mass in the Roman Church). My first (completely honest) impression of the church building itself was that it looked like a ghetto daycare. Some old-looking jungle gyms had been set up out back, and the building looked like it could use a new coat of paint. My second impression was that the interior smelled like cucumbers and incense, and the latter scent only increased as the priest swung his censer all throughout the service. The Eastern Church in general is a tiny community, comprising only about 1.5% of the entire Catholic Church worldwide. Here in North Carolina, the Eastern Church is even tinier. I doubt 50 people would have fit comfortably in the church we visited.

I enjoyed the first homily, which was given by the deacon. He wasn’t afraid to state the absolute truths of the Catholic faith in black and white, something you don’t often encounter in Roman Catholic churches nowadays. I felt like standing up and screaming, “Amen, brother!” at certain points as if I was at a Southern Baptist church, but I was already standing up and trying to keep a handle on my squirming child, who desperately wanted to get down and flail on the floor in his recent attempts to crawl. Instead, he settled for making goo-goo eyes at the baby next to us.

The second homily (apparently not a common occurrence) was given by the priest. He spoke about the Pan-Amazonian Synod that will be held in October. Again, I agreed with his opinion and was glad that he stated it because, again, personal opinion and overt statements of the truth are not frequently heard in the Roman Church, which is a terrible shame. I mean, come on. If you believe that truth is truth, say it. (This is a rant for another time.)

What I didn’t like was that the entire Divine Liturgy, except the homilies, was sung in what I found to be an atonal drone. I nearly fell asleep, and as a result, I didn’t get much out of the service and couldn’t focus (although this may have been partially due to my son’s attempts to wriggle out of my grasp). As I mentioned before, there were so many differences between Eastern and Western Catholic worship that it would take a long time to get used to. Even the saints the East venerates differ from Western saints, and not as much emphasis is placed on the Rosary, which made me sad.

It was a nice visit, but I doubt I return anytime soon. I’m a Roman Catholic through and through. I’m Italian and German. My roots are with Rome. My culture is with Rome. It was nice to try another flavor, but I did not find it to my liking (although I sincerely wish Roman Catholic priests would speak out about Catholicism’s beautiful truths more often).

On Being a Bad Catholic

You want to know something? I’m a bad Catholic. Wanna know why? Here’s all the things I should be doing and don’t do (or don’t do adequately)!

Reading the written works of saints. My husband and I own many of them, but I can never concentrate enough to read them because the language is complicated and hard to slog through. As I said before in my previous post about books I can’t get through, I have no mental energy. I can’t even get through St. Therese of Lisieux’s book, and it’s not really that difficult. I can get through some of Fulton Sheen’s stuff, but he’s not a saint yet. Maybe that’s why. 🙂

The Bible. For a while, I was reading the daily readings, but I don’t have mental energy to sit there and contemplate what they mean or sit with a prompt and reflect on them. Every now and then, Bible verses go through my mind, but I attribute that to my family’s tradition of reading verses from the Our Daily Bread Promise Box every night before dinner (and that’s not even a Catholic thing). If you hear something often enough, it will stick in your brain. The same thing happens with the daily Bible readings. I may not take a deep dive into them, but if I read them over and over, they (and their messages) will stick eventually. Not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to be done, but to each his own.

The veil. I have three veils, but I hardly wear them anymore because I have a baby who likes to yank them off my head (and pull my hair constantly). Also, I just don’t feel pious enough to wear one. I know it doesn’t work that way. Most women who attend Mass today (who don’t go to more traditional parishes) don’t wear veils at all, but if I visit a more traditional parish, I’m intimidated by the grace and beauty of the women with their veils, when I’m in my jeans and T-shirt covered with baby drool, split ends, no makeup, a Top 40 song stuck in my head instead of a prayer… bleh.

Confession. I have never been good at it. I clam up as soon as I get in there, forget what I want to say, stumble over my words, and generally feel like an idiot. “Write your sins down,” they say, and I have tried that, but again, for some reason, I can never read off the paper. It’s like literacy fails me. Or I end up telling the priest a vague story of how I sinned, and it sounds so stupid as I’m telling it that I wish I never opened my mouth at all. (Basically the same thing that happens in my interactions with “regular” people, but worse because if I try to make some funny comment, I feel like I’m not taking confession seriously.)

Prayer. I say an Our Father and ten (maybe nine, maybe eleven… I sometimes lose count) Hail Marys with the baby most nights as I’m putting him to bed. Sometimes I remember the morning offering. Sometimes I remember to pray for people throughout the day. But there’s no real conversation with God, where I speak to him as I would a friend or family member. I’m jealous of Protestants, who always seem to have that personal relationship.

Charity. These days, the closest I come to an act of charity is biting my tongue when I’m on the verge of screaming, and some days, I don’t even do that. Once upon a time, before I had a baby and got too pregnant to be useful, I volunteered and did a lot more. Man, I really miss those days.

Apologetics. Forget about it. I can’t argue my way out of a wet paper bag. I don’t like arguments, confrontation, or trying to defend the faith, because it is not a skill I possess. The closest I come to apologetics and evangelization is posting on this blog, and it probably turns more people off than anything else. Oh, well. I tried.

NFP. Well… as with NaNoWriMo, technically there is no such thing as NFP failure. But NFP’s skeptics would say I have failed at that because I now have a child.

So I keep reminding myself of this quote by G.K. Chesterton (also not a saint yet): “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

Relic: First Class

St. John Vianney is on tour! But how can he be on tour? He’s dead!

Ah, the power of sainthood and incorruptibility.

One of the weird and cool things about the Catholic Church is that many of its saints are incorruptible, meaning that although they died many years ago, their bodies (or parts of their bodies) never decayed and remain relatively intact. These parts of a saint are known as first-class relics. A second-class relic is an item that the saint used often in his lifetime, such as a rosary or a prayer book. A third-class relic is an item that was touched to a first- or second-class relic.

St. John (Jean) Vianney, a French priest who is the patron of parish priests worldwide, is one of the “incorruptibles.” He died in 1859, so you’d think every bit of his earthly remains would have crumbled into dust by now. But his heart is incorrupt and recently traveled the country in a glass reliquary guarded by the Knights of Columbus. (And they had swords. How awesome is that?)

St. John Vianney’s incorruptible heart visited a parish near us on Memorial Day weekend, so being the huge Catholic fanboys we are, my husband and I were going to go, but I ended up staying home with the baby instead.

From what my husband said, the church was crowded with visitors from all over who wanted to venerate the incorruptible heart and ask the saint for intercession and for a resurgence of vocations to the priesthood.

I was sad to have missed the event, but my Miraculous Medal was touched to the relic and is now a third-class relic itself. However, a third-class relic is only as good as the faith of its owner, so to gain any benefit from it, I need to continually improve my faith.