Before yesterday I had only walked out of a Catholic Mass once.
That was in the 80s, in Virginia, during an Easter vigil. It gradually dawned on me that the young priest who was delivering the homily was saying that the Resurrection of Christ should not be understood as a bodily event, but as something that occurred in the hearts and imaginations of the Apostles.
To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, then to hell with it. I left and drove to the nearest parish, where I came in just as the sermon was beginning. So I did not miss a beat in the liturgy.
Yesterday, with a looming deadline on an icon that started going wrong in the very final stages (the halo lines, for those of you who know what that can mean) I decided that I would attend an early Roman liturgy, because when we go to our Byzantine church it is usually an all day thing. The “coffee hour” is generally more like a feast, conversations long, and the kids play with their friends on the sprawling grounds.
So I attended St Joseph’s in Canton.( https://caelumetterra.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-beauty-of-your-house-st-joseph-catholic-church-canton-ohio-2/ …for some reason I can only link whole addresses).
It is a beautiful church with an excellent choir (which unfortunately takes the summer off) and an older priest who reliably gives succinct and pithy homilies.
The first reading was about the hospitality of Abraham to his Three Visitors, and the gospel was the story of Mary and Martha.
The homilist could have approached this from any angle – the primacy of contemplation, say – but chose to preach on the virtue of hospitality. He stressed that “hospitality” in a desert culture was not just a nicety but a matter of life and death, and he mentioned the passage in the Book of Hebrews that advises us to not neglect hospitality to strangers, as many have thus “entertained angels unaware”.
The Mass proceeded with the grace and reverence I have come to expect at that parish.
After communion the priest asked the congregation to remain seated. He began by acknowledging the generosity of the parish in giving to Catholic Charities, local food banks, and the Salvation Army.
“But what is not legitimate”, he said, “Is what we saw here last Sunday, when a man and his supposed wife and children were begging outside the church. There have been similar incidents at St Barbara’s and St Mary’s, which makes me think this is some sort of scam…”
I had heard enough.
I stood up, genuflected, then walked out of the church.
This man was advising his flock to disobey Christ, who clearly said to give to everyone who asks. It apparently did not occur to him that people are begging outside churches not because they are scamming but because they are desperate. (And if they are scamming, let God judge that, not me).
Further, he, in telling people to only give to organized charities, to intermediaries, was denying them the opportunity to love others directly and personally, to interact with the poor.
And he was provoking scandal: if poor people beg at churches it is because they expect those who profess Christ to have mercy, to share what they have. This should not be an unreasonable expectation, and if they are denied alms are they not going to become cynical about Christ?
This is yet another way that the world, seeing the hypocrisy of Christians, becomes sick of Christ.
And apparently this priest was completely oblivious to the irony of preaching about hospitality right before exhorting the congregation to deny the poor their alms, which the Fathers teach are theirs by right.
And finally, he was denying, perhaps, the opportunity to interact with angels.