It’s not every day when a news story about my parish goes semi-viral on the Catholic internet.
When I first read the Catholic News Agency article (brought to my attention by a friend of mine at a parish event this past week), I thought oh, how nice! The author interviewed our priest (who is a bit of a Catholic jedi) about the sacristan group in which my daughter participates, and for which I am more or less in charge of in terms of scheduling. When my friend and I were talking about the article the other night, somebody joked that I should have been mentioned, and I laughed and said CNA could definitely have reported on how I keep forgetting to put together the new schedule and send out emails.
I shared the article on my Facebook wall because it highlighted a program that my kids, and my family, love, and featured some wise words from a wise priest.
And that was that.
Until, well, the whole thing picked up steam, and now much of the Catholic blogosphere is saying that our Holy Name sacristans are “oppressed”, being told they’re “little ladies”, and being prepared for a “1950s church.”
Consider the hornet’s nest stirred, friends. (Or is it poked?) My priest, my parish, my daughter and her friends, my sons and their friends, and the beautiful gift of caring for the sacred vessels which hold our Lord are being dragged through the mud of the blogosphere. And that’s not cool. Not at all.
Now normally I try to stay out of The Catholic Interwebz Wars. As much as I know it may drive traffic to my typically low-traffic-blog, I keep *mostly* quiet about vaccines (I vaccinate), yoga pants (I wear them), pornographic movies set to release on Valentine’s Day (I won’t be seeing it and neither should you), and the present subject of boy-only altar servers (I am in agreement but, hey, who am I to judge). Most people are tired of all the in-fighting, and I generally detest conflict, and I don’t feel the need to convert everyone to my way of thinking about a matter. Because most of my life, thankfully, happens away from the screen. Most of yours probably does too. As far as church goes, I’m blessed to be part of a local parish where I am regularly challenged, inspired, and encouraged. It’s all good.
But I want to give a little more information in hopes of clearing up any confusion about what we do. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial, and I do think it’s quite beautiful.
Our priest’s idea for the Little Therese Sacristans was inspired by the beautiful service of a dear parishioner, who passed away. Agnes Brady served faithfully and quietly in the sacristy for many years–you can read more about that here. The idea was to have a tangible way in which girls could serve our Lord by serving in our church, in the same spirit as dear Agnes and, ultimately, our Mother Mary.
We kicked off the group last year with a fancy afternoon tea party for moms and their daughters. The main thing I remember about it is that I dropped and broke my friend’s creamer bowl. I still need to replace it. Basically I have no business being at a fancy tea party. But anyway.
After the party we toured the sacristy and two of the older women in our church explained to the girls about the various things they’d need to do and know. Honestly, it’s complicated! I don’t know my way around in there, but my daughter sure does, and oh how she loves it.
Then we moved to the chapel, where Father Daniel Cardo spoke to the girls about the beauty and importance of their work in the sacristy, and gave them a special blessing. Each girl received a necklace with a blessed St. Therese of Liseux medal on it–which, frankly, is one of my daughter’s most prized possessions.
And so began this special group of girls. Who, incidentally, beat the pants off the boys in the jeopardy game they recently played at the annual dinner the Knights of Columbus put on for them. There was pizza, soda, and each child was called forward to receive a certificate and necklace in appreciation for their service, the sound of applause. My kids were sick with colds but they HAD TO GO TO THE SACRISTAN AND ALTAR SERVER DINNER. So, we went.
People can argue all day long over whether girls should be serving at the altar. Actually, they do argue all day long. I have never cared to engage publicly in that debate because there is so much discord and disagreement there among Catholics of good will, and what could my bloggy voice possibly add to the conversation? Nothing. But I WILL tell you that I see God working in the hearts of my children through our parish, and through the opportunities they’ve been given to serve. Because that’s what it is, service–NOT a performance, or a “look at what I can do”, or an extracurricular activity like swimming lessons. They are, yes, serving in slightly different ways–but that’s just real life. When my husband and I have a baby, I’m the one experiencing pregnancy and childbirth first-hand. When the baby is young, I’m on the hook for breastfeeding every two hours. My husband definitely does stuff, but it’s different stuff. He’s male and I’m female. And that’s okay.
My “oppressed” daughter, the one being prepared for the 1950s church? She just turned eleven years old this past week. She is self-confident, laid back, funny, and kind. She loves school, always has her nose in a book, knows way more saint stories than I ever will, likes riding horses, and gets excited about serving in the sacristy. She would do it for every Mass if she could. For the past couple of years she has told us that, one day, she’ll be a cloistered nun. Even though I’m kind of in denial about the cloistered part (every Catholic parent’s greatest fear, amIright?), I think her heart is so beautiful. She loves Jesus.
And I’m beyond grateful for the fact that my sons love to serve at the altar, and that they have Deacon Don, Father Daniel and some of the older altar boys to look up to. What a great way to live and learn their faith, and receive an inside look at the priesthood.
They say there’s a shortage of vocations to the religious life. I’m relatively new on the Catholic scene, so I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about it. But I DO know that my daughter has, for the past two years, said she wants to be a cloistered nun–and when I asked her why, she whispered that it’s because God told her. And one of my sons told me over breakfast several months ago that he thinks he might want to be a priest. And I don’t know if any of that will come to pass, because they’re still young with plenty of time left to discern their vocations. But I will tell you this. Two nights ago, we attended a Mass and celebration for one of the consecrated laywomen at our church, and my children sat in rapt attention as they watched the slideshow of her making her perpetual promises in Peru. And then they sat in silence when she stood up and shared what it has meant to be consecrated to the Lord, to have this vocation. My daughter told me later that she had been inspired, seeing how much this woman loves God. And I can’t help but think that some incredibly beautiful things are happening in the hearts of my children–and in no small part because of the love, training, and positive modeling they are receiving at our parish, and through the Christian Life Movement.
And that’s why all the snide remarks about my daughter and her friends being oppressed at Holy Name are absolutely ridiculous. Obviously I can’t change what you think, but I’m hereby inviting you to come visit my parish sometime. You’ll find reverent Liturgy, a good priest, and friendly people. When Mass is over, follow the stampede of children over to the St. Agnes Center for coffee, donuts (sometimes there are maple donuts!) and conversation–which occasionally keeps us there for most of the afternoon.
It’s like a family, and my family is glad to be there.
Oh, and if this program sounds like something you might like to pursue in your parish, let me know! I’d love to share.