This is the first day this week (except for Sunday) that I actually went to church in a church. Logistics have made it difficult, impossible actually, to make it to lunchtime Mass. And so it has been church on wheels, listening to EWTN on the way to work.
As convenient as it is, listening to Mass on the radio can be off-putting. First, there’s the obvious fact that you can’t receive communion. It seems illogical as a Catholic to attend Mass and not take the Eucharist. So there’s that. Secondly, and I apologize a thousand times for being so petty, but if the priest’s radio voice is raspy or nasally or just somehow off, my feathers get completely ruffled. “Oh my, please Father, please don’t talk like that,” I find myself saying out loud. Then I turn the volume down a bit and tell God I’m sorry for having to miss part of the service, but it feels like someone is running fingernails down a chalkboard in my head.
Needless to say, today I am thrilled to be back at the Cathedral in Cleveland. I take a seat near the middle and wait for Mass to start. The organ music is beautiful. The priest is energetic. It all feels really good.
And then the lector starts the first reading.
It took me just a couple of seconds to realize who her voice reminded me of: Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is.” If you’ve never heard the song, Peggy talks through part of it as she reminisces about sad moments in the past.
“I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. And when it was all over I said to myself, is that all there is to a fire? Is that all there is?”
It’s not an uplifting song! But Peggy roars through it in a throaty, dramatic tone, and it’s hard not to at least be intrigued. And so, instead of concentrating on the first reading and the responsorial psalm, I keep wondering if this is how Peggy Lee would sound if she was the lector, and of course if she was still alive.
The point is, it’s unfortunately not all that hard to be distracted in church, even when you’re in an actual church. And when you finally catch yourself and snap back into the present, you feel kind of bad that you’ve wasted time and not paid attention.
As always, God has put people in place within His church who are not perfect and who still inspire us to be good people. Today is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, commemorating the moment that Jesus told Peter that he would one day lead the mission.
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Keep in mind that this is the same Peter who later on will deny knowing Jesus. And yet Jesus wants him to be in charge, warts and all. My thinking has always been that if Peter could let Jesus down like that and still be allowed into His graces, there is hope for me and everyone else! It’s not that we’re supposed to be perfect — we can’t be — but that we shouldn’t let our mistakes completely throw us off course. We can always get back to how we’re supposed to be living.
Now, let’s talk for a moment about members of the clergy who were supposed to be leading the faithful but who chose to take advantage of their position. The sexual abuse scandal continues to cloud the name of Catholicism around the world. I’m fairly certain that most priests keep their vows, and I know for a fact that other faiths have battled their own scandals. (The recent news about sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Church is one example.) Still, it can be downright disheartening to think that these men, supposedly with a calling from God, could do something evil.
I think about the story of Peter denying Jesus three times, and Peter eventually hanging his head in shame. He knew what he had done was wrong, and he was sorry for it. I would give anything for just one priest to admit what he had done and to apologize for the suffering caused. The chances are slim. Many of the priests who have been accused over the last 15 or so years have died. For those who are still alive, it is probably not encouraged to admit guilt. It would be refreshing, though, if at least one of them did. A confession would never take away the hurt that victims endured, but it would signal to the laity of the Church that even in the midst of horrible sins, forgiveness is possible. I guess I won’t hold my breath, but I remain hopeful.