Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Friday, September 06, 2002

My Parish

My old parish, St. Luke's, is building a big new building next door to the old church. Next week is the last Mass in there. After that, it's all Mass in the school gym till the new church is completed.

It gives me a panicky, grieved feeling. The parking lot in front of the school is being turned into a church, the sports field out back of the school are being turned into a parking lot, the last vestiges of my childhood will soon be gone -- and nobody ever gave me or my parents (who still live in the parish) any kind of vote. If I liked those big roundy churches, I might be mollified a little. But I don't.

I suppose I shouldn't care. My parents stopped attending church at St. Luke's about two years ago and moved over to the tiny University Parish. (It's closer to their house, the priest is far more accessible and a good preacher, and the parish needs them as part of its life.) Dad and Mom, being relatively conservative folks, could deal with our old parish pastor's theology and morals sermons. They weren't bad, though occasionally Father would lecture us about parish politics that most of the congregation wasn't even vaguely involved in, or the importance of filing into the pews in his preferred manner. But Dad (he's a Methodist, but he's always gone to Mass with Mom as well as attending his own church on Sunday morning) stopped wanting to come when the pastor made people start praying for the money for the new church. Most people didn't want it; there wasn't even vaguely a consensus; and then to be made to pray for the new church instead of parish renewal like we were supposed to? Mom agreed with Dad that this was too much to take. So after being part of St. Luke's since her dad and mom moved out to Beavercreek in the sixties, my mom blithely left it and hasn't been back, not even for spaghetti dinners or pancake breakfasts.

I really shouldn't care. I tried to warn Father after Mass one day that the lack of consensus was dangerous and my parents were seriously thinking of heading for the hills over this. But he wouldn't listen, even when I said that part of it was that the parish loves the old church. We had just had it desecrated the year before and had to have Mass in the school gym until the church was reconsecrated. The parish rallied. People packed the gym. When the church was finally cleansed and blessed and opened again, it was even more packed. People who hadn't attended regularly in years came every week, and we took pride in our community and our church. Heck, I even came from across town and stayed with my parents overnight just to go to church in the evening.

All Father saw was that the church was packed every Mass, and the building was old. He saw a problem.

Well, it's not my problem any more. I go to St. Albert's and my parents go to Wright State, and it's not like I'll ever be moving back to Beavercreek. It's not a place I'd really want to live anymore -- all fakery and malls instead of woods and fields, like it was when I was a kid. I suppose the new building will work out somehow.

But I'll try to get to Mass before the end, if I can. I want to say goodbye to the most beautiful church in the world, in what was (for a brief and painful time) the best parish ever.


I guess it's not strange that Father shouldn't have listened to me. He probably didn't know who I was, even though he'd been there since before the whole scandal broke (one of our old priests was the guy accused along with Cardinal Bernardin of doing stuff with the seminarians; our priest was the one who'd actually done stuff -- and wasn't that a nice thing for us to find out?). I have to wonder how the priests can really know anybody in these big suburban parishes, other than the parish council and the neighbor kids.

See, you're not supposed to bother the priests. Or the nuns. They're busy. You're allowed to say hi, or say you liked the homily, and you're allowed to go to Confession. Anything more than that is Right Out, or at least that was always the impression I got from my mom growing up. I think most kids my age got the same lecture.

So I grew up in a church where the priests and nuns were sort of celebrity strangers, like the principal of a school. If you had to talk to them, you were in trouble.

I have to think this has something to do with the low level of vocations. It's hard to imagine yourself being a priest or nun when you have very little idea what it's like to be one. By the time I was nerving myself up to ask the nice German nun about it, the sisters had picked up and left our parish. (More mysterious parish politics we never heard about.)

I never talked to a priest about the times when I was having mystical experiences. I got tonguetied enough when I'd try to explain my exact sin problems when I was going in for Confession, or the few times I brought or tried to bring a moral dilemma to a priest. I'm sure I sounded stupid, but I wasn't used to talking to a priest. My generation learned to keep its problems to itself, or deal with them by talking to another layperson. I'm sure this too has had very bad consequences. It's probably where a lot of this schism and alienation is coming from.

I love my current parish, and the priests there are great. (Well, except for the one I never really met, who it turns out was living under a sort of house arrest because he'd done inappropriate things while a high school principal. Does this stuff follow me around?) But I still don't feel like I really have the right to talk to them about my problems or my spiritual growth. Probably that's why I'm blogging. I wonder if that's why everybody else is blogging, too.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

The World's Most Beautiful Churches

St. Luke's Church.
The ur-church. In my brain next to "church", this will always be the picture I'll see. The inside walls are bare red brick; the roof and the pews are plain wood. The stained glass windows are melees of rainbow color in abstract almost-patterns, except for the beautiful "Mothers' Window" over the choir loft. The tabernacle is right behind the altar (the logical place). I think I finally got used to the "new crucifix", which was actually the "old crucifix" hauled down out of storage, where it had been since the Nixon administration. I never did get used to the two-tone Mary, Joseph and Jesus statues getting colored in by some artist, though thankfully she was made to repaint Mary as a brunette after her first effort was (ugh!) a blonde, blue-eyed, and pink-lipped Aryan Barbie. I also never got used to the new Mary statue in the grotto (behind and below the bell tower, between the church and the hill), although it really is nice. My brother's Eagle project was the really cool cross-shaped garden in front of the church. All in all, this is the most beautiful church in the world. Though I'll admit there may be a few which are almost as good. :)

My current parish doesn't have a picture of the church up on the website, alas. It looks like a New England Congregational church from the mid-1800's -- three pillars in front, a spire on top, and painted white. I learned during our recent renovations that the altar area was originally painted in blue and gold diamonds, but these were painted over in white thanks to the high maintenance. And okay, they were a bit emphatic, but I'm in the SCA and I like an interior that's chequy azure and or. :) When the church was expanded, a chapel was built behind the altar; there's a movable wall, so that Mass can be celebrated with only one side open or both. The crucifix is two-sided and hangs right in the middle above the altar. Really nice. Finally, the new stained glass windows (replacing plain glass) add wonderful color and life to the church, as do the newly cleaned German turn-of-the-century Stations of the Cross. The only downside to this church is that the relatively low and flat ceilings don't give good acoustics. But the organ's good. The second-best church in the world. Come when Father Manning or Father Frank are celebrants.

Ascension for a large part of my childhood was a bomb shelter underground. Now it has a surface presence. Granted, it's round and not all that gorgeous. But believe me, it's prettier than cinderblock, concrete, and thoughts of nuclear war.

Holy Angels is one of the many churches in Dayton built during the 20's and 30's. They're made from concrete, basically. But that's okay, because they're shaped well, have nice stained glass, and are painted with gorgeous wall and altar paintings! The acoustics are a little too good.

UD Chapel is purty. It looks like some kind of little Austrian church built during the baroque period. But I wish they'd kept the altar table up on the dais and shelled out for a decent sound system, because the way they have things now, with the altar on the long side, looks stupid. Pews instead of chairs would also be nice. Still and all, this is the home of the 10 PM Sunday Mass! What a lifesaver!

Holy Trinity looks very German immigrant. Inside, the funky electric-light heart-shaped "candle" rings reveal that a lot of the parish is now made up of Latin American immigrants. (1:00 Mass on Sundays is in panish. I recommend it if you know the language.) A small but very alive parish with a wonderful festival (mm, cabbage rolls!).

Immaculate Conception was supposed to be the cathedral if Dayton ever got to be an archdiocese. Very beautiful and big. Huuuuge church festival. They should make the raffle part of the state lottery.

St. Joseph and St. Mary don't have websites. This is wrong, particularly since St. Joe's is where you go if you need a 6 PM Sunday Mass. Very conservative parish, but the churchgoers are all over the map thanks to the great Mass time. The acoustics ring way too much, thanks to the lovely Roman basilica shape and green marble (okay, faux marble, but I never would've guessed it till I read the church history) pillars. The most beautiful wall paintings in Dayton, and very nice stained glass, particularly the three archangels right over the altarpiece. St. Mary's I don't remember much about (I've only gone there once), but its twin bell towers and bronze dome are beloved landmarks and very visible from the highway.

More beautiful churches I've visited:

Church of the Blessed Sacrament
, Hollywood CA. It's two blocks behind the main drag. I found it by following the sound of the noon bell. The parochial school was a dead giveaway, and finding Mass about to start was a bonus. :) Look, Jesuits!

St. Bridget of Sweden, Van Nuys CA. (No website, alas.) It had one of those really nice California exteriors with a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a lot of nice statues, including Bridget wearing one of those Brigittine habits with the flames on. Cooool.

I can't remember the name of the church in Burbank I went to back in 1999, at the first JAG convention. It was up on a hill, I know that, and we had a heckuva time finding it. It might have been St. Finbar's, or it might have been St. Francis Xavier's.

St. Brendan's in Hilliard is the closest church to the current OVFF hotel. Very proud of its Irish heritage, very big, very crowded. Nice interior from what I saw.

St. Joseph's Cathedral in downtown Columbus has a very convenient noon Mass I go to on Marcon Fridays.

St. Patrick's
is a block or two past the Ohio Center, so this is where I spend my Marcon Sunday morning. Look, Dominicans!

All churches are beautiful when God is there. But these ones are especially nice.

My Communities

Keeping up a blog is harder than it looks, especially when you get a cold or the blogger software eats a post that it took you an hour to write. The moral of the story is "always save everything".

I spent Labor Day weekend missing my fellow sf fans. A large chunk of them were at Worldcon in San Jose (ConJose), including one of my friends who emailed her mailing list to tell us how much fun she was having. Cruel! :) We fans love to flock together anyway, and with the long hard year we've been having, that instinct was pressing hard on me. But I went to the Big Fat Jewish Wedding instead of Worldcon or Pennsic, and I don't regret it; weddings are more intense and only happen once. I just wish I could have gone to Pennsic and Worldcon and the wedding, and let the rest of the world go hang this summer.

I obeyed that instinct last fall, and so did many others. Despite the worries involved with air travel, science fiction conventions had extremely high attendance. OVFF, Columbus' filk music convention, usually has attendance of about 200. Last year it ballooned to 250 or more. It was crowded, but nobody complained. We wanted to be crowded; to see with our own eyes and feel with physical hugs that our online friends and postal acquaintances were alive and well. I went all the way to Atlanta in winter for GaFilk for the same reason. I had a lot of fun and good music from each, but it was the company I craved.

But even though I didn't go to Pennsic, it came to me. I'd forgotten that Labor Day is also the big local demo for the Society for Creative Anachronism. There was my barony getting ready to march in the Holiday at Home parade. I saw old friends I'd been missing since I fell away from the SCA. I saw other friends I didn't realize had joined. After all that time, it felt as if I'd never been away.

My barony is a community. Filk fans are a community. Science fiction fandom is a community that can be found all around the world. It's weird to be part of a community where you are recognized by people, including those you've never physically met. It's odd to have a reputation in this world of anonymity, and to have that reputation matter. But there's a strange security in it, even when people annoy you or backroom politics start to affect your life. People know you, and your actions matter. Huh.

The parish I'm in now is a community, too. It's odd for me. I'm used to anonymity in that part of my life as well. For the first time since I was a kid in school and was sure the priests knew everybody, I'm actually a bit disconcerted at the thought of going to Confession face-to-face or otherwise. The priests all know who I am! They'll recognize my voice! (All die. Oh, the embarrassment.) Weird, eh?

The oddest thing is that our pastor's mom lives on my parents' street. We never really knew her, because she was always old and sick and stayed inside, and we kids were not supposed to bother her. I knew vaguely that her son was a priest and all, but it never would have occurred to me to talk to him, either. You don't talk to strangers; you don't bother the neighbors; you mind your own business.

I've lived by those rules all my life, except in fandom and the SCA. There we go by the geek rule: join conversations that sound interesting whether you know the people or not. It's simple and comfortable to talk with people who assume you're just a friend they haven't met yet. There you are, an hour or two into the conversation and heading down to dinner together when you realize you all forgot to introduce yourselves. Of course, it's vastly more comfortable to talk to fellow geeks, since they don't demand that you maintain eye contact. (I never understand why normal people like that. Staring feels hostile to me, or at best boring. I can do it, but it's soooo stupid.)

I think it's fairly clear that the geek rule is superior to the suburban rules for creating community. Oddly enough, people in my parish do feel they can start talking to you without introducing themselves first. It's endearing to find this trait among normal folks. I wonder if it used to be more common, back in the days when people talked to each other instead of staying inside and watching TV.

So if the Church is to be a community, we need to be geeky enough to actually talk to each other. It's not a big deal. We're all just body parts that haven't met yet. :)