Children of the Dawn

By Diogenes (articles ) | Sep 30, 2003

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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  • Posted by: Sterling - Oct. 01, 2003 11:20 PM ET USA

    Long ago, on a short-lived hejira from rock and folk masses, I once went to a mass like POP's. Like a simpleton, I believed it must be "okay" because it was in an R.C. Church basement - would the pastor allow it if it wasn't good? (Sigh. Let's move on.) The Gospel was presented as community theater, all of them taking roles. With mass done, they got on to the main event: a whine-in about big bad John Paul II. Back to Kumbaya-land I went, "and that has made all the difference."

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 01, 2003 11:14 PM ET USA

    No discipline within the Church. We continue to cripple ourselves and thwart God's purposes.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 01, 2003 9:50 AM ET USA

    Pascal said in the Pensees, that the origin of all evil was man's inability to be still in a room.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 01, 2003 8:24 AM ET USA

    The description of POP reminds me of the Quakers. I lived in a Quaker community for a year. There was no focus to the Quaker Meetings - everyone listened in the silence for whatever message they were given then shared it with the community. And, there was diversity in a way Catholics don't really understand. The Quakers understood something else Catholics don't seem to - silence. Most of the "new age" Masses I've been to since converting show almost a neurotic fear of silence.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 30, 2003 11:59 PM ET USA

    Alas, some people pass through POP on the way out of the Church, not back in. Their Spring 2003 newsletter has the news that one member, formerly a Catholic priest, is being received to the Episcopal ministry. Another priest has an update, too. Roger Haight, SJ, writes: "... betting Catholics have their money on the decision that I'll not be allowed to teach on a pontifical faculty of theology such as Weston." See? Not all the news is bad.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 30, 2003 11:23 PM ET USA

    The worm never dies in hell. Facilitate is a word that should be placed in some type of Vatican Index of Forbidden Platitudes. People of the Pompous.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 30, 2003 8:36 PM ET USA

    Weston Jesuit School of Theology? Hmmm, I seem to recall a certain Jesuit professor of theology there who recently opposed the Marriage Act as an insult to gays and lesbians. We had a living room meeting when our new, young(er) pastor arrived seven years ago. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit provided plenty of Luxembourg beer and chilled steins. You can imagine how well we spoke in tongues.