After attending the gathering of about 600 Catholic theological ethicists from all around the world in Trento, (see Cathy K’s excellent post below,) I stayed in Italy to rattle around and do the tourist thing a bit. Thus far, post Trento, I admit the whole Church scene in Italy depressed me no end. I resist being charged admission to enter a church–don’t churches belong to the people of God? Charging admission underscores the sense that what happens in these buildings is a relic of a bygone era.
The two liturgies I attended were scandalously bad. In one city vespers in the Cathedral done carelessly, with no more reverence than one might expend when one flosses. They clearly don’t bother to practice. In a stunningly beautiful church, can’t the guys even PRETEND they want to be there, or that what they’re doing is important? What a missed opportunity to show off another of the Church’s treasures. And this is the cathedral–imagine what it’s like out on the hustings!
In another city, I ducked into a daily Mass. The presider led us quickly and tonelessly through vespers, then flowed seamlessly into an expressionless Eucharistic prayer. Never once made eye contact with anyone in the tiny, mostly elderly, almost all female congregation. Didn’t bother to preach, of course–that might have revealed engagement with what was going on. At the sign of peace, didn’t deign to greet anyone, and got going again as quick as he could. While he went on with the prayer, a little girl, about 6 or 7, walked around the entire chapel, shaking hands and smiling at every person in the place, maybe a dozen of us. God bless her–she was grace that day. The priest dispensed Eucharist mechanically, then dashed to the sacristy without a personal word. No wonder so few bother to attend. Might as well deconsecrate the joint and sell it to someone who cares about it, even if only for the art and the history, instead of pretending it’s a living church.
Ah, but today I find myself in Assisi. The Holy Spirit is alive here still, thanks to the little layman who preached to the birds. Walked into the basilica of St. Francis for free, where a lively, guitar-accompanied Mass was just wrapping up, (the congregation was singing!) and then joined the silent procession down past the saint’s tomb. Young people escaping the rain duck into alleyways and sing. Tourists snap photos–and then they pray. Yes, yes, there are all the tourist-trap appurtenances here that were present in the other churches–but God is here too. It remains a holy place. Thank you Francis. Thank you Clare.