Airport Mass, Pope Francis’s Solidarity in Korea
Despite the summer lull in my posting here at DatingGod.org, the number of subscribers continues to grow by the day. So before I chime in with some of the latest (and likely random) thoughts and reflections, I want to express my gratitude to those who continue to stick with the blog and, explicitly or more tacitly, encourage me to continue. Thanks!
Now for the latest.
First, I’m writing from the road. The month of August has been a busy one for me travel-wise. A combination of retreats, speaking engagements, and a weeklong vacation has occupied the first three weeks of August and led me to criss-cross the United States. After two days at home in Boston, I’m back on the road. This weekend began with a short visit to Manhattan for the solemn profession of three of our brothers at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street — always a joyful event! Today I found myself en route yet again with a stopover in Washington, DC, during which I happened to be at the airport at the same time that Catholic Mass was celebrated in the interfaith chapel.
Though I’ve been aware of these chapels for a long time and happen to know well the coordinator of the airport chapels in Chicago, Mike Brennan, I have never actually participated in a liturgy despite my abnormally regular presence at airports. I don’t often fly on Sundays, usually because I’m somewhere where I will speak or preach or preside at Mass, so that’s the one day of the week you’re least likely to find me in a terminal.
But this Sunday I was at the right place at the right time and what I experienced was very interesting.
It was a very mixed experience. On the one hand, the small chapel was filled to capacity. The miniature congregation was composed of a diverse representation of airport employees and travelers, baggage handlers and pilots, tourists and business travelers (and at least one undercover priest). There were men and women of many different ethnicities and races, ages and sizes. It was a microcosm of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.
The faith of my sisters and brothers with whom I sat in close proximity in the tiny space inspired me and gave me great hope.
The only downside was — drum roll please — the presiding style and homily. The elderly priest who presided seemed like a very nice man, and I commend him for his efforts. It seemed clear that he was retired and slower than he probably once was, but he tried…somewhat. Despite the room being packed, he never invited any of the members of the assembly to volunteer to read the scripture, but instead plowed through all four readings himself. It was the closest experience of a “tridentine-like mass” in the vernacular (no full and active participation) that I’ve had. We were more or less “watching” as passive observers, occasionally reciting our prayers and receiving the eucharistic species at communion. The homily also left a lot to be desired. I won’t say much more about that, I imagine there are plenty of times incognito priests and religious could say similar things about this or that homily of mine. The only thing to say is that it is never, never ok to tell people that “if you don’t understand the church’s teaching, get yourself a catechism.” Nope. Everybody there was a practicing Catholic, therefore baptized and in full communion with the church — no catechumens to be found. A Catechism is a fine quick-reference tool and guide for instructing those in RCIA. That’s all.
Even with that less-than-stellar review, I must say that I am very grateful for the work of this priest and of those, like Mike in Chicago, who generously give of their time and ministry to make the sacraments available to those who find themselves on the road on Sundays, especially those (such as myself) who have to be on the road a lot. Thank you!
Second, I want to draw your attention to an excellent article by The Boston Globe‘s John Allen about Pope Francis’s visit to Korea last week (“Two Pins in South Korea Show A Pope Doing it His Way“). The piece recounts and explains the significance of the Holy Father’s seemingly extemporaneous decisions to wear two pins at various points during his trip. The first was a yellow ribbon worn in solidarity with those nearly 300 people who lost their lives, many high-shool kids, on the ferry that sunk off the coast. This was significant in large part because a pope typically does not publicly express views that could be viewed as offensive or threatening to the leadership of a country which he is visiting. Despite the political implications, Pope Francis nevertheless chose to express his solidarity and concern for those who were suffering in the wake of this tragedy.
The second pin was given to Pope Francis by a group of “comfort women,” Korean women who were forced into sexual work during the occupation of the Japanese. The controversy surrounding this action had little to do with the pin or the women, but where and when he wore the pin — on his chasuble during mass. Now even I get uncomfortable with this one, but after taking a proverbial “step back” was able to see the powerful witness given in this action. Presiders don’t have the prerogative to make changes to the vestments, etc., during the celebration of the liturgy. It is, literally, the work of the people (from the Greek leiturgia), the celebration and worship of the whole Body of Christ, the church. It is not this or that priest’s “show time.”
Yet, there are occasions when, like Jesus to the scrupulous religious leaders of his time as recounted in the Gospels, we need to break from the traditions of our making in order to honor a higher responsibility. In this case, Pope Francis gave witness to the extreme pastoral need in a difficult situation, recognizing that what Jesus would have done is exactly that or more. It is a call for humility, a reminder of who is really presiding over every assembly in worship — Jesus Christ.
I encourage you all to take a look at Allen’s article, and wish everybody a wonderful end of the summer and start of the Fall. After this short stay in DC, I’m off to record the audio version of my forthcoming book, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, which is due out in just about a month.