strictly ballroom

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 04, 2008

Father Joe Kempf and his companion Big Al made an appearance at LA's Religious Ed Convention earlier this year. The former presided at the Young Adult-themed Mass held in the Marriott Marquis Ballroom. Father Joe is the author of No One Cries the Wrong Way: Seeing God Through Tears. If you have a long masochistic streak, you can watch a video of Father Joe in homiletic action, with his puppet, here.

Most of us will find the performance cringe-making. For the L.A. Mass we see the words to Dan Schutte's "Here I Am, Lord" Power Pointed onto the rood screen. It's pretty safe to say that if you like Dan Schutte, you'll appreciate Father Joe.

And it is, importantly, a performance. That in itself means a bad fit at Mass. But the wrongness goes deeper. The Jesus that Fr. Joe offers us is uniformly and extravagantly soft, uniformly and extravagantly sweet. It might be objected that this super-sugary Jesus is aimed not at parents but at children, yet I think even a child would recognize something morbid in the figure of a man lacking the strength and authority proper to manhood -- not to mention Kempf's amputation of the severity (intermingled with compassion) that Jesus displays in the Gospels.

Unrelieved tenderness is unnatural. About fifteen minutes into one of Fr. Joe's homilies it occurred me that he was speaking as if to a very young child getting over a terrible shock who needed to be cushioned from any reminder of sorrow. The language is unnatural because it's responding to an unnatural inability to deal with things as they are. At the Los Angeles Religious Ed Convention, it should be noted, Fr. Joe's puppet schtick took place at the Young Adult Liturgy. My hunch is that the "damaged children" in this case were not the worshiping assembly but the convention organizers who made the assigment in the first place. These are the children of the 1970s. These are the Catholics still dealing with some inexpressible hurt. These are the ones who, in every aspect of ecclesial life, have proved themselves incapable of facing reality. For them, in default of the longed-for experience of healing, Big Al may be best Joe can offer.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2008 8:20 AM ET USA

    Borrowing from Flannery O'Connor in "The Thanatos Syndrome", Walker Percy makes the same point as Diogenes: "Do you know where tenderness leads? .... to the gas chambers." Easy example: people who refuse to call homosexual behavior a sin because (in all sincerity) they genuinely like a friend or relative who is gay. Result? The culture continues to collapse because nobody wants to be thought of as "judgmental.” Clear thinking is the first obligation of a Christian.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2008 7:34 AM ET USA

    Diogenes and the rest, who admittedly may not have listened to the whole homily (which I freely admit having not listened to to the very end) seem to miss Father's point. He eventually got around to saying that Jesus loves us just the way we are, but that he loves us too much to leave us there. Father's style of homiletics has no appeal to me, but ask yourselves, are you being charitable to the sinner on the altar?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 05, 2008 6:54 AM ET USA

    Does he have a degree from the "Pee Wee Herman School of Modern Liturgy"?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2008 11:51 PM ET USA

    Someone should point out to Father that Jesus wasn't talking about political freedom (in fact he rejected their attempt to make him king) but about freedom from sin and the power of Satan.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2008 6:30 PM ET USA

    The homily starts out as one I could give. Jesus does meet us where we are, and loves us despite whatever. But he does not leave us where we are. That would be unjust for the Redeemer of the world. Do not leave me in my sin!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2008 5:44 PM ET USA

    You don't get it. That's the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. That includes Hollywood. Performances, rather than spirtual substance, are what it's all about.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2008 1:37 PM ET USA

    You don't specify whether this Mass is the ordinary use or extraordinary use.......

  • Posted by: - Apr. 04, 2008 12:45 PM ET USA

    I work as a coordinator in Rel. Ed. in the Archdiocese of Baltimore- Fr. Kempf is a favorite around here. I don't get it. The DRE also recently told me that I was "obligated" as an RC (and as a coordinator, I am assuming) to stand by, and promote the policies and directives of the USCCB... But then he sheepishly said that of course I would have to answer to my conscience first. Yeah, um...I will if they will. Lord heaven above have mercy on us.