Incredible Abundance

“In-cre-í-ble,” called the cantor, in Spanish. A barely audible and somewhat confused response came from some members of the gathered assembly. “A-bun-dan-cia,” called the cantor. “¿A-bun-dan-cia?,” responded some of the assembly, almost questioningly. Perhaps it was because people were distracted by the parade of Asian drummers ascending the stage in their colorful costumes of blue, red, green, yellow and gold. Or maybe they were still working out what the spiraled and curved figures hanging from the ceiling were intended to represent. In any case, thus began, hesitatingly, the opening session of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress 2010.

Once it got going, however, as the drummers were drumming, and the dancers processed, lifting and swirling with flaming braziers in their hands, it was clear that something exciting was under way. I confess that, for a few moments, it seemed to me like the world’s biggest pep rally, what with all those drums, and the cheers that went up when they finished! We sang of being the “pueblo de Dios,” the people of God, and Cardinal Mahony opened the conference officially with the Sign of the Cross and a prayer.

A reading of Romans 8:35-39 reminded us that neither death, nor life, nor anything else can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The power of this reading was hindered somewhat, in my opinion, by the technique using two lectors to deliver the text in alternating phrases of English and Spanish. I speak both languages fluently, but still found the movement back and forth between the two in phrases and half sentences somewhat distracting. Our response to the reading was a song by Steve Angrisano, Falling Into You—a beautiful melody that made me want to sing (though the rhythm was very syncopated and a little difficult), with words that reminded me, at least, of Psalms 139 and 116.

Sister Edith Prendergast, RSC, Director of the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, delivered an inspiring reflection that set the stage for the conference. We were encouraged to make the weekend, and indeed all of life, a celebration of God’s incredible abundance—of love for creation, abundance in joy, abundance in sorrow, abundance in beauty, abundance in disadvantage. We were reminded of God’s presence in all of creation, at all times, and challenged to look for God, even in those places or situations where we least expect to find the divine presence, remembering that God’s love enfolds no matter the time, the place, or the circumstance, just as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans.

Given this message, maybe the pep rally atmosphere at the beginning of the opening rite was more appropriate than I had thought at the time. Perhaps I need that motivation to remind me of the presence and the love of God all around me, all day long. As I head out to another day, my challenge is to try to fall into God’s love, to let it wrap around me like a blanket, so I’m forced to be aware of it. It is not a tent to shelter me, where I shouldn’t get too close to its walls. It fabric is incredibly abundant—there’s enough to go around for everyone, if we allow ourselves to be wrapped in it.

Brother Aelred Senna, OSB
Saint John’s Abbey

12 comments

  1. I wish I could be comforted by such choreographed, unbridled enthusiasm, but the thought of my children, nephews and nieces who have discarded their Catholic inheritance is too much of an impediment. They’ve left the Church for many reasons, but the insistence that the integration of pop culture props and gimmickry ensures the attention and eventual religious commitment of youth certainly hasn’t helped. As most parents will attest, the challenge children posit comes in the form of a simple question: “Why believe at all?” Only expressions marked by gravitas, not contrived spectacle, answer that provocation.

    1. But Randolf, even though it’s Lent, we are “Easter People” after all, and even though there is a world-wide scandal in terms of priest sex abuse of minors, shouldn’t we nonetheless be a “happy peppy people” instead of a dour, penitential group with frowns on our faces in face of so great a spectacle as going on now in Europe, also in California as I recall? O yes, all that relevance we had in the 1970’s and 1980’s to keep our young people for the long-hall, it has worked so well as your comment suggests. YIKES, indeed. It is Lent and we are going to be in a long Lenten season of repentance in the world wide Church, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity. You’d think there would be less razzle dazzle and more of the piety of the “Sorrowful Mother” in the tone of these event spectaculars, especially as it regards religious education of our youth in these last 45 years. In other words, Randolf, I agree with you.

  2. And yet our liturgical observance places not the sorrowful mother but the young girl of the Annunciation during Lent. And her spouse with tables of Italian goodies (and meat!) too.

    Never having attended the LAREC, I (and perhaps we) cannot speak to the experience of the event. But it is not alien to the Catholic experience of pilgrimage, and especially not the spectacle associated with papal visitations of the past thirty years.

    Speaking for myself, large conferences are not my cup of tea. But I’m less willing to let commentary pass taking a scattershot at religious ed because someone’s children are less engaged as Catholics.

    Some questions for parents whose children have abandoned: aside from Sunday and holy days, did you attempt to engage the religious imagination with pilgrimages, family retreats, visits to churches, monasteries, and interesting religious sites when on vacation? Was the Bible bedtime reading? Faith is there to be awakened, not assumed.

    1. All the things you mention, Tom, are being rediscovered by Catholic parents and are indeed a recipe for life long Catholicism. But I know from first hand experience, much of these “devotional” things were denigrated by the “religious education” establishment of the Church as well as liturgists. Popular devotions went by the wayside, so did penance. How many people actually do a Friday penance now since none in particular is prescribe? There isn’t the confusion now as there was then about your remedies. I find home-schooling parents most likely to follow your recommendations. These are excellent! But parents of my parents age and younger were duped and left high and dry in the 1970’s and 1980’s. There’s still some of that lingering today. The home has to be the primary place of catechesis, devotion, pilgrimage, etc. So should sobriety in Liturgy and para-liturgical expressions in our less than perfect times. Modern Hollywood type triumphalism is not the answer to our needs today.

  3. When it comes to the LA RE Congress, the question is always the fine line between liturgy as prayer and liturgy as entertainment/spectacle. Too often, this Congress seems to fall on the wrong side of that line, with genuine prayer and participation falling victim to razzmatazz and gimmick.

    But that in itself has nothing to do with ‘a Church that has discarded its traditional heritage’. It has everything to do with the policy decisions concerning style and idiom taken by those who plan the event.

    Mostly the liturgies have little in common with what takes place week-by-week in the liturgical life of the majority of parish churches across the country. Unfortunately, because these manifestations are very public, outside observers tend to assume they are typical. They are not.

    This is not say that there are not some excellent liturgical ideas contained within the liturgies: there are, but it is the way in which they are implemented and presented which makes a crucial difference.

  4. It will be interesting what happens in the next few years, as Roger Cardinal Mahoney will no longer be the one officially opening the conference.

  5. Talk of razzmatazz, I studiously avoided the presiding and liturgical dancing and all that stuff at Anaheim this weekend. But I did attend an OF Mass at our local church and was very displeased that a very important appeal for funds for Haiti took the unfortunate form of a guest speaker taking the place of the homily walking back and forth in front of the Altar and Tabernacle much in the manner of a telethon host showing us what gifts we could get depending on how much we donated. “But wait, there’s more..” Well, I didn’t wait, I left quietly and came back for the EF later where there was no razzmatazz. It’s a pity – after 2 years of attending the EF I had been trying to attend the OF again, seeing its essential continuity, but “heeeeeere’s Johnnnny” scared me off. “Well, you’ve been a wonderful congregation this morning…” Sigh, should I speak to our priest or am I turning into an old grouch? Perhaps I should just offer it up for Lent.

  6. ” Unfortunately, because these manifestations are very public, outside observers tend to assume they are typical. They are not. ”

    Dear Paul, excellent observations overall. However, I am left to wonder whether you meant that outside observers of congress megaliturgies assume that they represent typical American parish praxis, or rather that they assume they are typical to the LA REC experience.

    1. I meant the former. I have noted previously on this blog that critics of postconciliar liturgy take isolated instances of abuses and immediately trumpet that this is what everyone is doing, all the time. The folks at the Vatican are also good at this, as Cardinal Arinze demonstrated on many occasions when he spoke about perceived abuses that most of us had never heard of, let alone encountered.

      The next stage is to produce laws to deal with the abuses. A good example of this would be the Instruction on Concerts in Churches, which was provoked by heavy metal concerts in San Damiano in Rome. The words ‘sledgehammer’ and ‘walnut’ come to mind.

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