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By Deal W. Hudson

3/4/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Before the celebrant entered, every seat was filled, and almost every face was smiling.

For me, there was water in the desert that night in more than one way: the rain would leave the parched ground green, but the Mass celebrated by Father Joe and the people of God in Paradise Valley would give me hope that other spiritual communities have discovered how to bring a human and humane warmth to the Roman Rite. 

The surprising welcome wasn't all that would surprise and delight me.  The church is part of the Franciscan Renewal Center which, as I had already heard from several local Catholics and non-Catholics, maintains a vibrant relationship to the community through its liturgies, retreats, classes, and programs of all kinds. I usually discount this kind of praise until I see it for myself - well, I did!

The surprising welcome wasn't all that would surprise and delight me. The church is part of the Franciscan Renewal Center which, as I had already heard from several local Catholics and non-Catholics, maintains a vibrant relationship to the community through its liturgies, retreats, classes, and programs of all kinds. I usually discount this kind of praise until I see it for myself - well, I did!

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/4/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Deal W. Hudson, welcoming parish, warmth, evangelical catholic, franciscan, renewal, Our Lady of the Angels, Franciscan Renewal Center, Pope Francis, Father Joe Schwab OFM


PARADISE VALLEY, AZ (Catholic Online) - I've written several times in the past about what I consider a lack of welcome and warmth in Catholic parishes, especially when a newcomer attends Mass. In my 30 years of being a Catholic, I had never been to a Mass where visitors were welcomed until this past weekend at the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Paradise Valley, AZ.

But the surprising welcome wasn't all that would surprise and delight me.  The church is part of the Franciscan Renewal Center which, as I had already heard from several local Catholics and non-Catholics, maintains a vibrant relationship to the community through its liturgies, retreats, classes, and programs of all kinds. I usually discount this kind of praise until I see it for myself - well, I did!

The church itself was intimate, about 300 seats in theater style, tiered, and in a near semi-circle around the altar. The style of stonework, windows, and religious art was beautifully integrated, creating a spiritual space in a desert setting.  I was told by my hosts, Claudia and Paul Critchfield, that there are often as many as a thousand worshipers seated outside watching the liturgy on screens (yes, a new, larger church is being built).

Before the celebrant entered, every seat was filled, and almost every face was smiling.  There was little chit chat, the mood was reverent and expectant. The congregation's average age is over 50, this being a popular retirement location near Phoenix and Scottsdale. I'm used to being among older worshipers at Mass but not among so many cheerful ones. The mood was quiet, as I said, but joyful even before the Mass began. 

Father Joe Schwab OFM came out and stood just in front of the altar. His presence was priestly, pastoral, and cheerfully reverent. Father Joe said, "Hello," and asked for any visitors to raise their hands.  Mine shot up involuntarily, since I had been waiting thirty years for this simple act of courtesy before Mass. The four of us who were visitors said our names and where we  were from, per Father's request. He repeated each name, eliciting warm but restrained applause. Just right, in my opinion.  As I told him later, "Father, you have a gift for touching just the right chord in worship."

When the Mass began the cheerful mood was transposed into a darker key of joyful reverence. I've rarely witnessed such a genuine antiphonal celebration of the Mass. If there is such a thing as 100% participation, I was blessed to be part of it.  The music itself was not to my taste, admittedly, but the people of God sang it heartily, and several of the tunes were singable even to my ear.  Best of all, my favorite version of the Agnes Dei, one I have not heard for years, was sung whole-heartedly by the cantor and the congregation. 

It had to be providence that on the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the gospel text was one that has special meaning for me, Matthew 6.24-34: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin." Though I outwardly may show the face of a bon vivant, on the inside I carry around more "worry" than is necessary or, more importantly, faithful. 

Father Joe offered a notably textured homily on these verses, beginning with the distinction between worrying as fretting and worrying as a prudent concern of meeting responsibilities. The message was reasonable but graceful, a message that contained uplift but also good, practical advice for living.  As I told Claudia later, the homily was "magnificent."  That Father had brought one of the 300 copies of the famous St. John's Bible to lay open before the congregation only added to the impact of his homily.

A cynic reading this column might expect that after the final blessing this happy group would remain inside the church clustered - Protestant style - in animated conversation. Not so, everyone left in reverence shaking Father's hand and looking for shelter from the first rain in 70 days.

For me, there was water in the desert that night in more than one way: the rain would leave the parched ground green, but the Mass celebrated by Father Joe and the people of God in Paradise Valley would give me hope that other spiritual communities have discovered how to bring a human and humane warmth to the Roman Rite. 

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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