A couple of evenings ago, I celebrated a memorable Mass outside the cathedral in Leon. I created a meg-shift altar using metal tables from a cafe and my I Phone for the readings and prayers of the Liturgy.
I brought the rest of the necessary articles for saying mass and packed them neatly in my backpack.
The mass brought together pilgrims from a number of countries, one of whom said he had never participated in a Catholic Mass before. They were mostly young who prayed with depth and faith , even if not familiar with the ritual.
There I was outside the beautiful cathedral celebrating mass rather than inside. I couldn’t have celebrated inside anyway since most of the doors were locked ( the usual story)
and the main door to the cathedral, itself, was open for tourists to take pictures and participate in guided tours. I did what Jesus would have done: celebrate the Mass in the open air, with streams of people passing by, looking and wondering what was going on.
At the homily, I asked them to share what was on their mind or in their hearts and the responses were amazing. Our young truly want to make a difference and they want to reach out and help.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is telling the crowds, US, to read the sign of the times. I tried my hardest to read the signs of the times at this impromptu outside Mass. And what I “read” is that people , especially the young, are hungry for the Truth that will anchor their lives. Four of the young who came to the Liturgy were in the Peace Corps giving their lives to help people in need. They are living the gospel and don’t realize it. Yes, they expressed the idealism of their age and we should encourage them and not drag them down with our myopic vision of life. Pessimism kills the spirit!
The Truth, who is Christ, is sending us into the world , so that we can transform it into His Kingdom. The Liturgy must be at the heart of this transformation as we are formed by Word and Sacrament. But the young are not coming to the Liturgy nor do they see a need to. Organized religion is seen as a barrier to spiritual growth with outdated traditions and teachings.
How can we mend the disconnect ?
We have to witness to our love of Christ, that we KNOW Him and FOLLOW His way. Beginning with the catechism and doctrine is a sure fire way to fail. Jesus can get lost very easy in many expressions of Catholicism.
Yes, we must read the signs of the times… These times NOW. Our Church should be present to the “crowds” of pilgrims, welcoming them with the doors of the church wide open!!!!! And I mean the physical building!! The Church should respond to the times we are living and meet these young where they are at and listen to their hopes AND their fears.
Instead, our churches and beautiful cathedrals are being turned into dens of tourist traps and , worse yet, museums. Many of these magnificent buildings that speak our Faith are being turned into lifeless museums.
It is wonderful to celebrate the Liturgy outside, but just as wonderful gather people inside, close to the altar where they can feel less overwhelmed. Too often people enter these impressive worship spaces (during limited hours) and sense that they are foreigners, not know how to act or what is appropriate. The physical building of the church needs to speak our faith through windows and light, statues , icons, incorporating these expressions in an organized way that has narrative and meaning. The Liturgy, the living celebration of Christ’s love for us , must be at the heart of how the building speaks our faith.
The Catholic Church is missing a phenomenal opportunity to see in this Pilgrimage to Santiago a way to begin to bridge the disconnect , by being present to the pilgrims as they enter the towns and cities along the Way: open the churches, forget the siesta since most pilgrims finish walking around three in the afternoon and are thirsty and hungry, have priests and lay leaders available who speak a variety of languages, have the Mass and prayer offered everyday. The church can be alive and present by reaching out to hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, listening to them ….reading the signs of the times.
Buen camino. Fr. Frank