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Children of the Dawn

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 30, 2003

Vision Book Cover Prints

Are you a Catholic who hasn't felt comfortable with the Church but is looking for ways to reconnect?

If so, The People of the Promise want you. POP, which describes itself as "a Eucharistic-centered worship community," is one of those 1970s-style living room parishes in the Boston area.

Community decisions are reached by consensus of the members, facilitated by elected coordinators. Decisions are made at open community meetings, held seasonally, at which -- in the tradition of the New England town meeting -- everyone speaks as the spirit moves him/her.

Playing church with blank ammunition is, of course, one of the oldest hobbies of the New England intelligentsia, and wherever two or three Volvo sedans with ABOLISH APARTHEID bumper stickers are gathered, there among them is a non-hierarchical faith community. One recalls in this context Richard Niebuhr's remark that the function of the Unitarian Church is to kill time before the Sunday New York Times arrives. As for The People of the Promise, their very name suggests a certain self-congratulatory smugness, and one can hear the undertone of gratitude that they, at least, are not as other men:

Members play an active role in choosing music and leading group discussion during liturgy. We generally celebrate the liturgy of the Word "in the round" and participants are encouraged to share their reflections on the Scripture readings at the time of the homily. The Eucharist is also generally celebrated "in the round" with members gathered around the table. The majority of our chaplains have been Jesuit priests from the faculty of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge.

Most of us will be able to decode the language successfully: chez POP you won't find yourself sharing a pew with a thick-necked Eastern European homophobe or a prolife mother of eight. One prefers to celebrate diversity with one's own people, after all.

The Jesuit connection is also interesting. Two Jesuit houses are listed as gathering places at the website, so it can't be argued that the Jesuit participation occurs without the knowledge and consent of their superiors. It is likewise difficult to imagine that POP is unknown to the chancery of the Archdiocese of Boston. Now the POP Eucharist is unabashedly illicit, and no priest could associate himself with it except as a conscious act of defiance. Since the clergy support for the group could be yanked in a single afternoon, we have to figure that POP operates with (at minimum) blind-eye toleration on the part of the Archdiocese and conscious encouragement on the part of the Society of Jesus. If challenged, the Jesuits and the Archdiocese will argue that POP is pastorally useful as a Eucharistic halfway house -- a resting place to help alienated Catholics on their journey back into full communion, etc. The game is called Plausible Deniability.

The People of the Promise is a good example of the "tapeworm" schism discussed often in OTR. The Church hosts and feeds alien bodies inimical to her purposes -- bodies that flourish largely because the responsible ecclesiastics find it politically and professionally inconvenient to acknowledge the problem and tackle it. Better, as Screwtape says, to let sleeping worms lie. Even when they never sleep.

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