Sunday, March 8, 2009

WHAT I BELIEVE II


Today was a very important day in our church. The Archbishop presided and administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to over 30 young people. One thing that has always attracted me as a Catholic to my faith is the pomp and circumstance of the rites of the Church. A visit by the Archbishop is exciting indeed. The procession that begins the Mass is even more regal when the Archbishop is there. He processes down the center aisle dressed in his priestly robes, topped off by his gold mitre, carrying his staff, symbolizing his status as the shepherd of his flock (the Archdiocese of Cincinnati).

As a young Catholic boy I was a server (altar boy). I served one Mass with the Archbishop and I was a nervous wreck. My parents told me that being chosen to serve the Mass was an honor and the parish priest, one of the role models of my life, must have had a lot of confidence in me to entrust me with the Mass. I waited in anxiety for two weeks for the Mass.

I lived in a big parish and I knew it would be packed on Sunday. We still did Mass in Latin in those days and those of us chosen to serve the Mass practiced incessantly. I had my Latin down pat when the day arrived. My dad dropped me off at the Church 90 minutes before the Mass was to begin. I went inside and met my friends and our priest. He was very understanding with us and he tried to calm us down. My priest was one of my heroes. He constantly smoked cigars and cigar smoke reminds me of him to this day. When I arrived he was puffing on his cigar, smiling, and joking around. He had been a chaplain in WWII and there wasn't much that got him upset. He went over the protocal of meeting the Archbishop with us again. As you approach, bow and kiss the big silver ring that he wears on his right hand that signifies his station in the church.

Finally, the Archbishop arrived. He was decked out in his robes and the purple skull cap he wore as part of his uniform. He walked briskly everywhere. He was on of those guys who was sure about where he was going. He greeted our priest with a big manly hug and they walked away from us talking and laughing about something. They obviously knew each other well, because they reminded me of my dad and my uncles when they met. My priest then introduced all of us to the Archbishop.

The first, not me, bowed and bent to kiss his ring. Suddenly the Archbishop straightened him up and talked to all of us. He said, "Are all of you young men ready for Mass." We all said we were. Then he winked at our priest and said "So you know your Latin, do you?" We all assured him that we knew it by heart. Then he put his hands on his hips and said "How about a little quiz?" This was my worst nightmare. I could feel the sweat trickle down my back under my cassick. I was in the sixth grade for God's sake. I was 11. I didn't want to let my family and my church down. He stood staring at us for what seemed like a long time. Then he stepped forward and shook each of our hands, tossled our hair and said, "Father said you are ready and there's no one I admire more in my life than your priest. So let's go make your family, your church, and most importantly God proud of our effort today." I have been so fortunate in my life to know so many people that were such an influence on me. Their example is what molded my life and to any extent that I am a good person is due to them.

Now I tell this story because I was transported back to that day by the ceremony today. I watched the servers, now girls and boys, as they struggled to not make a mistake in front of the Archbishop. He was very gentle and understanding towards them as they tried to remember everything they had to do. Of course, the prayers are in English now, so that's a good thing, but still, you could see the nervousness on their part. I felt for them, however, they did a very good job and the ceremony was beautiful. The Archbishop is at the mandatory retirement age and he has had a tough tenure what with the priest abuse scandal. He didn't do the job I hoped he would, but my whole church let me down on this score. As my dad continually told me, the people running the church let us down, not the church. People make mistakes and I hope we can recover as a church. I had friends who were abused and that's hard to take for me. I wasn't thankfully, but my friends were. I take that personally. I'm dealing with it.

In the Catholic Church, Confirmation celebrates one of the three sacraments of initiation. The other two are baptism and atonement or confession. Confession, among other doctrines is where a lot Christian churches part ways with Catholicism. Many believe that a Christian's relationship with God is personal and need not have an intercessor such as a priest. I hasten to add here that Catholics do feel a personal relationship with God and Jesus. Jesus is the intercessor with God for us and his priests are there to assist/teach us. There are many other differences but I digress.

The sacrament of Confirmation is just what it says it is. The Catholic is confirming his faith and this sacrament allows him to strengthen his faith. It is connected to baptism so the Archbishop recalls each of the Confirmants' baptism as part of their Confirmation. Here are the words of the Catholic Sacrament of Baptism:

Priest: N., do you renounce Satan?
Sponsor/Catechumen: I do renounce him.
Priest: And all of his works?
Sponsor/Catechumen: I do renounce him.
Priest: And all his pomps?
Sponsor/Catechumen: I do renounce him.

The Archbishop then moves on to the rite of Confirmation:

Priest: N., do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?
Sponsor/Catechumen: I do believe.
Priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was born and Who suffered?
Sponsor/Catechumen: I do believe.
Priest: Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?
Sponsor/Catechumen: I do believe.
May the Holy Spirit come down upon you, and the power of the Most HIgh keep you from all sin.
R. Amen

The Bishop or priest then gently strikes each candidate on the cheek, symbolizing that the Christian is now a soldier for Christ and must endure suffering and the persecution that comes from conflict with the world.


This is certainly one of the most beautiful and inspiring sacraments in the Catholic Church. I thought some of the prayers would be instructive in understanding the ceremony. I don't try to convert anyone. I am merely trying to explain to those who don't know the Catholic rites, the source of our faith. We believe in one God, his son Jesus, his Blessed Mother Mary and that God is waiting in heaven for us. I'm working to get there.

There is something very comforting about having a solid foundation under your feet. The Catholic church represents that for me. It has been around for about 2000 years and it represents everything that I am. It taught me traditions to believe in, strength of family, strength of community, and that we all share a common culture that is basically good. When we sin, we sin against not just God but against all of our brothers and sisters. We are responsible for not only our own conduct, but for that of all our Christian brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to work toward making all of us better and pleasing to God. Hard work for sure, but worthy of our best efforts.

Now I need to get right with my time in the military and on the Police Department. I saw, condoned, and participated in a lot of violence in my life. First of all, I make no apologies for that. I bring it up as a way of dealing with it. Sometimes your conscience asks some tough questions. Is it right to kill sometimes? Is it right to use force toward another human being? Having done all this, is it right to have felt good about it?

If I learned anything in my youth in the church, it's that there is good and evil in the world. I knew I wanted to fight evil. That accounts for joining the military and becoming a cop. I sincerely believe that I was doing what I was taught to do by parents and my church. The world needs to be rid of evil people. I want them not to be evil, but some people are. All cultures are not the same. Our western culture has changed the world in that it is all about justice and equality. We have fallen short, for sure, but other cultures make no pretense about trying to treat people equally. We fought a civil war to bring about that ideal. It cost us 600,000 lives, but we slowly but surely realized our ideals. No other country would have elected a president of color, aside from the majority of people. We did. The United States is the light of the world. After all, everyone wants to be us.

I believe that moral relativism is the scourge of the world. To say that people who blow themselves up and kill innocent people along with themselves are just like us, is a lie. Anyone who believes that is a liar. I have no sympathy with people who would equate some of the evil people in the world with western culture. The myth of the "noble savage" is just that, "a myth."

The indigenuous people of North America were not saintly people who lived in harmony with each other before the evil European males arrived. They had a long history of warfare and truly atrocious practices, including slavery and human sacrifice among others, long before the Europeans arrived. Why would anyone defending these people refer to them as "noble savages." What exactly is a "noble savage." A savage is just that. What's noble about it?

That's enough for today. I'll post next about politics.

Thanks for reading this.

4 comments:

Z said...

Well, this was worth the wait! I'm glad you found the time to write again!!

I couldn't help think of all the little boys (I can't go to the GIRLS thing, sorry..I'm a girl, but I'm a sexist when it comes to girls on the altar, I'll admit)...anyway, think of ALL you learned besides the obvious ritual/liturgy things you had to learn. Sure, you learned some Latin. But you learned memorization..you learned patience. You learned responsibility, coping with stage fright, depending on others whom you respect, what it feels like to be a small part in a much bigger, more important thing than yourself..right?
You didn't want to let your community and your folks and your priest down because those people had earned your respect and admiration.

OH, what our kids are missing these days. Today, they can't even sit in a pew for one hour with scratchy little boy wool pants on. At our church, we have crayons and paper for the little ones lest they just can't take the one hour a week they're required to sit quietly. Learning it there would be a big help the rest of the week, right? One would think all the parent would have to do is to give THE LOOK and the little one would sit quietly again. I remember THE LOOK, don't you?

The church gives us THE LOOK in our hearts; we know when we're wrong, we learn it at church, in Sunday School, from our clery.......and our kids are missing that, too. A conscience.

Sorry, didn't mean to make this yet another Z lecture...but you inspired me.

Beautiful to include the responses, L&O, it helped to understand the mass and the commitment. I loved reading the whole thing.

Sometimes, though the older I get the less doubt I have (especially lately), I think that if the whole Jesus thing isn't true, it gives us such a better life here on earth and a hope that keeps us going...that's the down side, right? Some down side!? !!!

thanks, L&0. great stuff.

Average American said...

L&O Teacher, I too am Catholic. I have not made confession through a priest in probably 30 years or more. I do not believe God cares whether I talk to Him through a priest or directly, and I choose the direct route. Why should I share my sins with a human being that may well be a much bigger sinner than myself??

PRH....... said...

Politics and Christians can't be seperated Teach{no matter how the left would like us to be)....good stuff.

Law and Order Teacher said...

AA,
I believe that God is working in a lot of ways. That is a personal decision. If you confess your sins I think He listens. Thanks for the visit.


Z,
Thanks for the visit. I appreciate the compliment. I have just felt lately that I wanted to dig into my beliefs. Clean the attic so to speak. Your points about what church teaches us in addition to religion are well taken.

I never really thought my lack of bashfulness, I'm not, had anything to do with my upbringing but it does on reflection. I'm not afraid to speak in front of people because my beliefs, which I often espouse, are deeply held and are as much a part of me as my physiology.

Without beliefs, grounded in religion, humans are lifeless, hedonistic shells. No soul means a mindless pursuit of self gratification. Basically, a life with no purpose.


Pat,
I agree with you on this. Politics is the way our government is run, or it should be anyway. Those who are politicians who care merely about being elected are contributing to the downfall of the country. Religion seems to be linked inextricably. Thanks for the visit.