Monday, December 6, 2010

Alabama and a Tale of Two Catholic Worlds

A good Monday to you all.

Greetings from the Diocese of San Jose, here in California's Bay Area. I flew here from Chicago this morning. It was eleven degrees in Chicago; needless to say it is far from that temperature here.

I am here to present a music reading session tonight for musicians in this area; we'll cover revised and new Mass settings published by WLP, as well as several octavos. Tomorrow I will be speaking to the priests of the diocese about the new translation, as well as the opportunities that the advent of the translation affords for the various chanted parts of the Mass.

Well, my experience in the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama last week was quite wonderful. For a day and a half at St. Bernard's Abbey, a group of about seventy religious educators, liturgists, musicians, deacons, and those working in Catholic schools gathered for a focus on the new translation of The Roman Missal.

Every time I travel to other dioceses, I am reminded of the diversity of the Catholic Church here in the United States. One woman related that she is from a parish of ten families; and they have no musicians currently in the parish, so there really is no music for Sunday Mass. There were others from rural areas where Catholics are far and few between. Still others were from parishes of well over two thousand families.

There was some rather lively discussion about the new translation. Some people arrived not having seen any of the newly translated texts. Others were familiar with the changes and arrived with a less than positive feeling about it all. My aim was to share as much knowledge as possible about the history of the translation process, as well as share some of the newly translated texts. Those in attendance really stuck with it throughout the whole process. It wasn't until we began to sing WLP's musical settings of the new texts that people started to see some real possibilities for their parishes. Many work exclusively with young children and they agreed that music will play a key role in the reception of these new words in the hearts of young Catholics.

I applaud the efforts of the leaders of this small diocese. They told me that the Diocese of Birmingham is very much "mission territory." The setting was beautiful. We were able to pray Vespers with the monks in the Abbey Church, as well as celebrate Mass with them. Here's a photo of the interior of the Abbey Church:

And a close-up of the image of Christ hanging above the altar:

Thanks to all in the Diocese of Birmingham that made this event such a success.

I also wanted to share what amounted to a pretty painful moment for me while in Alabama. While being driven back to the airport, there was some time to visit Mother Angelica's property, specifically the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as the bookstore on this massive property. Here is a photo of the interior of the shrine:

and an exterior shot of the "Nuns Gift Shop," which is located directly across from the shrine:

I was stunned by all of this, especially the gift shop, which is filled with medieval armor. My guide told me that Mother Angelica had a fascination with medieval times, chivalry, and the like, which is why the gift shop is designed the way it is. One word came to mind: excess. I actually shed a few tears as I walked around this enormous campus. All I could think of was Saint James in Chicago, my parish that struggles to worship in a less-than-desirable location because our church building is closed (and it's probably going to take six million dollars to make it structurally sound); my parish that struggles with its own financial future; my parish that feeds the poor and cares for those that society has simply thrown away. The contrast between the reality of Saint James' Catholic world and the Catholic world I saw portrayed at this location in Alabama was enormous. I know we are a big Church (and the great people of the Diocese of Birmingham helped me see that once again), but I just couldn't find a place in my heart to welcome the excesses I witnessed on the Blessed Sacrament Shrine campus.

Don't get me wrong. I know that EWTN's global outreach helps sustain the faith of many millions and that is a good thing. But there was something about the stark differences between Saint James and this campus that made me think that there is just something not right about the imbalance that this all portrays. Maybe I am naive about all of this, but I couldn't help but think that just a little bit of the gold (the real stuff, I was told) in the shrine could have gone a long way in helping my parish back home.

Thanks for listening to my story today.

I'll look forward to sharing more tomorrow, on "New Translation Tuesday."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Brent McWilliams said...

Very poignant. Thanks

Luke said...

You're not alone in your thinking when it comes to EWTN vis-a-vis the more "mainstream" Catholic world. The few times I've watched EWTN, I, too, have been struck by the "excess" of Mother Angelica's ministries--the design of the Shrine being one of them. You are right that EWTN does much good, but I agree that the gold-plated reredos and the suits of armor are more than a little too much.

People's spiritualities are as diverse as the people themselves. There are some for whom the "excess" may seem just right. It all depends on what we are exposed to. You have the broad frame of reference that comes from being a member of a parish that, while struggling, still manages to minister to the disadvantaged. It helps keep St. James' priorities straight.

Anonymous said...

It has been awhile since I read the biography of Mother Angelica, but I seem to recall that the Shrine was funded through the generosity of five individuals or families. And, yes, I recall some commentary that Mother made late design changes adding to the cost, but still funded by the same families. My guess is that such generosity is probably also demonstrated in other more prosaic ways in whatever communities those families reside.

The idea that some of the gold could help other less fortunate churches is somewhat analogous to the demands by some that the Vatican sell off the artistic treasures to feed the poor.

Jerry, couldn't it also be argued that the cost of your airfare to all these places could be reduced by using a teleconference approach, and the difference donated to another cause?

Anonymous said...

How sad. I think what is so dismaying is that EWTN is sometimes very quick to label some people as buying into the culture: consumerism, materialism, etc. when they, in fact, have seem to bought into those very ideals themselves. Of course, all we have to do is look at the opulent lifestyle of many bishops and cardinals (not all) to see that that begins at the very top. We have become a church of have and have nots.......mirroring society much too closely.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello FJH,
Thanks for your comments and for following this blog. You are right about the fact that many have said, for instance, that the Vatican should sell some of its treasures to feed the poor; this is not something I espouse. All I was trying to point out was the fact that it struck me as excess, especially the gift shop; something I am still trying to wrap my brain around. And yes, my airfare could be forfeited if all of these presentations were virtual. But I firmly believe that bringing people together in person, with someone who can lead them through a process is a valuable tool in moving the implementation forward. It is but one way that the Church is moving toward November 27, 2011.
Thanks again.

Mary Beth said...

Jerry, your post reminded me of something Ambrose wrote. Today (Tuesday) we are celebraiting his memorial, so I thought I'd share it here:
"The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds-and also big enough to shut out the voice of the poor. . . . There is your sister or brother, anked, crying! And you stand confused over the choic of an attractive floor covering."
I'm not throwing stones here; it's a very tough criticism that should make most of us uncomfortable.

Diezba said...


I haven't posted in a while, but I've continued to read your blog (indeed, your blog is a regular in my Google Reader feed).

Your post on the Diocese of Birmingham and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament (not to mention your visit to the Abbey of St. Bernard) hit very close to home for me.

I live in the Diocese of Nashville. I attended law school at Birmingham's Samford University. While I was not Catholic when I was in law school (I was a Southern Baptist; converted at Easter 2009, aged 26 years), I have since returned to the Yellowhammer State to visit the Abbey and the Shrine.

I wholeheartedly agree with your take on the Abbey. I'm disappointed that you didn't feature photos from the charming -- if a bit eccentric -- Grotto on the Abbey's grounds. I dearly love the monks at St. Bernard's, and their way of life has been very attractive to me (I am fortunate to live only 2 hours from their abbey in Cullman).

I must wholeheartedly disagree with your take on the Shrine. It is absolutely glorious. Mother Angelica built it as a Shrine to the Blessed Sacrament, and there is perpetual eucharistic adoration in the chapel. To me, it was disappointing that you failed to mention to your readers that all the gold in the photo you sent is there surrounding the Presence of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ (who is exposed in the Cross-shaped monstrance above the center of the altar). A fraternity brother of mine, raised in the Church of Christ denomination, converted to the Catholic Faith after a profound encounter with Jesus at the Shrine. His conversion was specifically begun by the glorious beauty of the Shrine. I remember him saying, "I had never seen such beauty. I know that surely, these people must believe that God is here -- otherwise, why would they have done this?"

I'm sorry that your parish church in Chicago is suffering from a decline. But should its financial problems cause you -- or any one else -- to begrudge the sisters at the Shrine (or the many pilgrims to the Shrine) the beauty of that building? I hope not; but the comments you make and those made above seem to evince the possibility of envy or jealousy.

As a commenter has already pointed out: it was funded by 5 families who share Mother Angelica's vision for restoration of the Church in the United States.

Perhaps if St. James parish is struggling, you should locate similar donors and cast a vision for them of a beautiful renovation. Such people do exist (see, for example, the chapel of our own Nashville Dominicans, who similarly use gold-leaf around the Tabernacle to convey a sense of holiness and reverence in their brand-new chapel).

Simon Ho said...

I am reminded of Judas' comments when the woman anointed Jesus with costly nard. Who are we to judge whether the devotion shown by the Sisters and the donors to the Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist distracts them from their devotion to the poor?

And in the Catholic Church, aren't there a variety of charisms, so that different parts of Christ's Body on earth spread and live the same Gospel in different, legitimate ways? We rejoice in the good works of each other because we are parts of the one Body.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Sorry, folks. Received this comment today, but was unable to post it directly to blogger. So this is not my comment, but one from a follower:
Your observations about the EWTN campus are right on. While Sister has done a lot of good, and it was only a few donors who gave these large sums to decorate the Blessed Sacrament, the role model for the church fails miserably. Jesus and his beloved Mother would not feel comfortable with such excess because they are about things of the heart, spirit, long suffering and God's promises. Grandness, trappings and God are not what brings glory to God but rather, a transformed heart where one poor person would help another, where we stop to help a stranger in need or give up time and our own resources to show the love of God to another. Like many televangelists, Mother's good intentions might have gotten lost in the insular world of a ministry that became centered on her personality and less about God and his people. It's a subtle occupational hazard when the focus becomes on one personality. She's done great things and reached many people around the world but perhaps became insulated in the success of her operation and those who were to were in awe wanted to be part of it. It may all be good but for the everyday Catholic it's something that is foreign to their everyday experience of living life and trusting God. And here, it seemed to seperate us rather build a bridge where our souls can meet. It only works when are hearts are changed from the inside out. I love visiting St. Peters but I'm still ashamed it was built on the back of slaves and indulgencies. Those were other times but we can learn from them

Jonathan said...

Dr. Jerry,

As the Director of Communications for the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament I would like to offer a few clarifications regarding your post.

First of all, We rejoice in the fact that you were able to visit our diocese of Birmingham and experience the beauty of St. Bernard's Abbey and the hospitality of the wonderful monks who reside there.

We do think however, that a few clarifications are in order regarding your thoughts on the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville. For instance, what you term as the "Nun's Gift Shop" is actually the Castle San Miguel which simply contains the gift-shop in one of its sections. The Castle also contains the Great Hall with original Medieval Bible Pages for student groups, a conference room, and a dining area, all of which we are not sure how you failed to mention. The Castle is used entirely for pilgrim groups who come from around the world (literally) to spend time in Eucharistic Adoration of Jesus. Every facility is offered for their use entirely free of charge, and we schedule our priest's time to include spiritual talks, Masses, confessions, and healing services for these good people who are looking for spiritual renewal.

In addition to groups and individuals on pilgrimage or retreat we offer public schools and various Protestant churches orientations to the Catholic faith as part of a visit to the Shrine. Again, with these groups, everything takes place at the Castle, is offered free of charge, and our campus welcomes from 10-15 thousand of these such individuals every year.

The castle was themed medievally because of the architecture of the Church which is modeled after the great Medieval Franciscan Churched in the Umbrian regions of Italy, and to remind Catholics of the reality that they too must defend their faith against both the powers of hell and the forces of secularism.

Another immensely important clarification is that the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament is not connected to EWTN and was neither funded or maintained by the network. The Shrine was built by the founder of EWTN, Mother Angelica, who built the Monastery in Hanceville to provide a spiritual center of Eucharistic Adoration-but it was not a funded project of EWTN. It was built and is sustained entirely by donations-mainly built by 5 anonymous families who wanted to glorify God-as all of Catholic Humanity has desired to do and has accomplished in the great Cathedrals and Basilicas around the World. It is important to note that Gold Leaf was used only on the Sanctuary-where God Himself resides and is adored. And it is also important to note, that the poor of our Community in Hanceville or of any Catholic community are never the ones who complain about an expensively built church. They too worship God in this space and desire that He be glorified so that others would see just what we believe about the Eucharist and God's constant presence with us.

Yet another important distinction is that those who feel that Churches should be built in such a way that glorifies God, also believe strongly that people deserve to live in the dignity which is theirs as children of God, and thus are not deaf to the cries of the poor and the marginalized.

We believe that if you will take the time to learn the whole truth about Mother Angelica and how the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament was established, you will be amazed at the love and providence of God our Father and your doubts will disappear.

Thank you for the good work that you do for the Church, and especially helping us to prepare for the new translation. Let us pray for one another.

Jonathan Howell

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hello Jonathan,
Thank you for your helpful comments. I hope to return to the Archdiocese of Birmingham next year, and would love to meet you and learn more about the shrine. The information you provided is helpful to me, and I know that my comments were based on some misinformation. Thanks again for the clarification. I believe that most people do not know that the "Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament is not connected to EWTN and was neither funded or maintained by the network." This is important information, although I think it is difficult to comprehend a distinction between a private/personal endeavor by Mother Angelica and the work of EWTN.
Happy new Year.

Jonathan said...

Thank you Dr. Galipeau,
You are correct that many people do not realize that there is a distinction between "a private/personal endeavor by Mother Angelica and the work of EWTN."
Mother Angelica has been completely separate from EWTN for many years now, after seeking less active involvement in the network. After moving to Hanceville, her only connection is now that of prayer and spiritual support and her monastery is not maintained in any way by EWTN. Because Mother Angelica's Live Shows on EWTN are still re-aired years later, many people think that she is still taping them live-something she is unable to do after suffering a stroke in 2001. So these misconceptions do come about quite easily, although there is no substance to them. We would love to have you visit our diocese again sometime. There were very positive reactions from your presentation at St. Bernards Abbey.
Again, thank you for the work you do for the Church. Blessings and Peace be with you and your family.

-Jonathan Howell