Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Tale of Two Sermons

We were more than delighted to spend Family Weekend with daughter number 2.  Her college is a beautiful place to learn, with Gothic architecture, acres of forest, some of the finest fog you have ever seen, and a vibrant faculty.  In fact, a highlight for me was sitting in on her humanities class and listening to a professor who sounded like an American version of C. S. Lewis.  It was wonderful, and the round of applause after the lecture was not initiated by thankful parents, but by students.

Fog on campus.
Since the college is Episcopal, we had to go off-campus for Mass on Saturday evening in a nearby (for the south) town. A 30 minute drive brought us to a small church where the only priest for the county says Mass twice on a weekend at the parish, and for early risers, there's mission chapel where he says 8am Mass.  The priest is from the Congo, and, unfortunately, is in the hospital with malaria after returning from a visit home.  Last weekend there was no Mass, but only a communion service.  This weekend, the local diocese sent a priest to take his place. And it was an odd experience due to the odd homily.

Now, let's leave aside the fact that his name was odd...yes, indeed, Fr. Odd*.  I looked him up just to make sure.  It was his homily that was really stunning and surprising.  You see, Fr. Odd, before he was ordained, had been married with at least one child (he spoke of his daughter).  He is divorced, and his marriage was annulled.  And since the gospel this week was from Mark 10.2-16, the topic of divorce was on his mind.  He talked a bit about annulment, about children who stray from the church and how it is not the fault of the parents, about loving ones self...lots about loving ones self.  He told people who are divorced (rightly) not to stay away from the Church.  His homily was all about love. Love, love, love, love...it went a bit over the top, and I thought he might burst into song at one point.  After all, Jesus was just giving us guidelines, and he knew we would fall short, so whatever you do is fine.  I paraphrase...but only a bit.

[NB:  The prayers of the faithful were terrific and strongly pro-life, read by a German prof from the college.  And the music was rather good this week, too.]

We came out of Mass a bit weirded out, if you know what I mean.  It is not every day one encounters a divorced priest giving a self-esteem-boosting motivational homily.

Sunday, we attended the Episcopal service so we could hear daughter number 2 sing in the University Choir.  Every time we tell folks that she chose an Episcopal University, they shrug and say, "Well, the music will be good."  And it's true.  The setting for the psalm was gorgeous, and offertory polyphony nearly made one cry.  The familiar hymns were sung by the whole congregation (parents' weekend means a full house for service).

The homily was preached by the chaplain of the college, who sounds like Al Gore (he is from TN, so that makes sense), and began by declaring that divorce has had an impact on everyone in the room.  Well, I suppose that is so.  But in a more literal way than I think is typical in a group of Christians.  One notices that there are a good number of families with infants or babies at parents' weekend.  Well, I have plenty of friends with college aged children as well as infants, and every age in between!  And there is a freshman who is the eldest of 9 who had his whole family there for the weekend.  But for the most part, the families with infants were second marriages or blended families.

The chaplain explained that the Episcopal church had struggled with the idea of divorce for years, and was now struggling with so-called "gay marriage" and the conversation about these things is ongoing and we should discuss them amongst ourselves, etc.  Essentially, he declined to admonish anyone about anything.  It was a pretty harmless sermon, as he declared he would not "beat anyone up" as he spoke on these topics.

So, both sermons left me thinking:  Is there anything right or wrong according to these churches?  Is the main mission of the Church to make folks feel good about themselves and their choices?  Wasn't this the "lukewarm" Christianity that will be spit out, according to Revelations?

One more thing.  A new study has named this college #3 for spirituality among top colleges in the US.  Numbers 1 and 2 were Georgetown and Notre Dame (I forget which came first).  That ought to tell you something about all three, yet I could not help but feel that this college was more faithful to the teachings of the Episcopal church than either Georgetown or Notre Dame is to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

And I'm sorry to say, I'd rather have her at this college than either of the other two.  As we left, my husband and I were wistfully wondering why there can't be more Catholic colleges that are more like this--academically rigorous, blissfully rural, gorgeously appointed, faithful to the teaching of the Church...

*not his real name...but it could be.


Lindsay said...

I grew up Southern Baptist but was a ringer for an Episcopal choir in college on my journey to Catholicism. My Evangelical friends talked about choosing a church like choosing a dessert, and I heard more than once upon my conversion their comment that I would "like" the Catholic church, as one might prefer a decorating style. However, I miss the Episcopal liturgy so much, I've longed to go back and explain, no way. If I were choosing a church to attend according to my tastes, it would be the Episcopal church, hands down. I HAD to join the Catholic church because it was TRUE, not because I especially liked it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'd love to know who Fr. Odd is. LOL!!! Welcome to Tennessee. This is why we travel well over an hour every Sunday to go to a Latin Mass. We were not Latin Mass people, but that was the only real Catholic setting we could find around southern middle Tennessee.

God bless,
KRisten in TN

MacBeth Derham said...

I wish a TLM were an option for her, Kris. But hey, it's an adventure.

Lindsay, the services are quite lovely, especially the evensong we attended.