Walking on Holy Ground



Compliments of http://www.cruzblanca.org/hermanoleon/index.htm By Gilles Côté
           I often listen to Catholics who were raised in a pre-Vatican II church and hear them talk about the importance of the rosary for them, of pilgrimages to marian shrines, of processions on special feast days, of how Saint Anthony has helped them find lost items. These are often also the same people who go to daily Mass and for whom the traditional forms of worships are still meaningful. Mary Douglas pointed out that a stratified and more stable society is more inclined to find meaning in traditional religious rituals and symbols. Pre-Vatican II worship was certainly rooted in a more structured society. Priests were perceived as belonging to a sphere of their own. Parents were to be obeyed - I sometimes wished that still held some meaning for my two daughters when they were growing up. There was a certain way of doing things in the Catholic community and the idea of questioning those established ways was seldom entertained. Whether it be nostalgia or a sense that we have lost something important I do not know, but I feel that the loss of sense of community was not fully compensated by the freedom gained in personal religious expression of faith. A stable society is not necessarily always stifling. It does provide for a sense that one belongs to a whole. That may, in part, be one of the reasons why it fosters a greater openness to certain communal experiences of the sacred.

           I also listen to the teens I teach and hear them say how boring Mass is. In recent years fewer of them complain about having to go to Mass on Sundays. Many of their parents have simply stopped practicing. Speaking to the kids about traditional religious symbols and rituals is often like speaking a foreign language to them (they react the same way when I speak French to them!) These symbols and rituals simply do not correspond to anything real if they are not "lived" in their families. These same students, however, can be touched by religious experiences. This year I was "homeroom"   teacher for a grade 10 group of kids. Most of them did not "practice" their faith in the traditional sense. But they could certainly pray. Our prayer together each morning was very simple. I would ask them if there were people or special things they wanted the class to pray for. They would either make specific requests or say that they had a personal intention. We would either say one of the traditional prayers or I would sum up in a few words what the students had mentioned in an improvised prayer. In a class that was not known for exemplary behavior I seldom had to remind a student to be quiet during that prayer time. They were praying with a group of their peers and it was meaningful to them.

          I remember once overhearing a grade 8 student as she was standing in line and being pressed from behind. "Move back" she said, "You are standing on holy ground." She laughed as she said it and did not realize the wisdom contained in her words. My students are standing on holy ground, but it is often difficult for them to become conscious of it because they no longer have the support of traditional rituals and the underlying structures that used to prop them up...