I have been immersed in my fourth draft of The Magdalene Mystery and came up for air this morning to attend church.
And so many celebrations to witness at church today, such freedoms to celebrate on this glorious Sunday! Not only did we honor our patronal festival, St. Peter’s Day (June 29), but the conclusion of Church School and Independence Day as well.
For indeed, if it wasn’t for the latter we would not have the former. We would not have the freedom to worship at all. But freedom requires responsibility.
The freedom to worship is a freedom I do not take for granted, for history gives witness to the extreme rarity of our system of government. History emphasizes the fragility of this great “American experiment” (de Tocqueville?) in democracy that continues today in our land. Our system may not be perfect, but it (still) grants folks the freedom to worship as they wish, to follow their hearts and minds and souls. I celebrate this with great thanksgiving for all of those who protect this freedom and have protected our many freedoms through the years, those who have given their lives for our country and those who today fight for our right to believe and worship publicly. Such a list includes our martyred saints, chief of all, Peter the Apostle, that forthright fisherman whom Christ chose to found his church.
So our parish family gathered together this warm July 3 in the great nave of Saint Peter’s Oakland. We sang our thanksgivings and we prayed our thanksgivings. We offered the great sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist, a word actually meaning thanksgiving.
I looked over the assembled faithful. We are a multi-generational church, one where many ages gather. We look to our elderly for guidance and example. We look to our young for energy and life. We try and incorporate all stages of life in all of our gatherings, but especially at the Mass, where families worship together, and even the very young take part in processions and blessings each week. In our coffee hours afterwards the old look after the young and give those young parents a bit of a break. We shower our babies with love and babies-to-come with showers. We honor life, no matter the age. We practice little courtesies, or try to, opening doors for those shuffling with walkers, serving the less fortunate, cooking and cleaning and fussing. We try to practice our love, to practice responsible freedom.
Our culture for many reasons has separated the generations, and most reason stem from this desire for freedom, but a freedom without responsibility. Matthew Shaffer writes persuasively that this separation is a result of six factors: the American desire for autonomy, our transient society and loss of the family home, the weakening of multi-generational institutions (churches), the welfare state which removes our need to care for one another, the lauding of youth and the dislike of old age, the isolating effects of digital technology.
I speak to some of these issues in my recent novel, Hana-lani, in which a character laments the loss of traditions (and history) being passed on through the family, a broken and threatened institution.
These are big ideas, real concerns that tear at the fabric of our freedoms. And the Church seems to be one of the last places where we see these “vertical” associations, these multi-generational gatherings.
Yet even churches do not see how important these associations are. Mega-churches separate the Sunday School from the congregation, and even in the Sunday School, separate the children by narrow age bands. They separate the adults as well by age. I thought of our Sunday School, which is rather like a one-room school, where children age three through twelve are in one class, the nursery next door, with folks moving back and forth all the time. I hope that as we grow we do not lose this sense of multi-ages, of family.
Evelyn Underhill wrote in The School of Charity (The School of Love) that it is in the family that we learn to love the unlovable. We move out of ourselves and are forced to care for those near us. This is true also of the parish church family. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes hell as a place where personal autonomy reigns. Everyone lives alone, unconnected. No-one has learned how to love. They want to be free to be alone, the ultimate lie of self.
So today I gave great thanks for the Church, and in particular, our little parish church, our little school of love. Here may be one of the last visions of responsible freedom, of loving the unlovable. As a seed dropped from a dying plant, perhaps it will be one more seed that will help rebirth our Western culture.
And so we celebrate the freedom to water the seed, the freedom to learn to love, the freedom to honor the family, the freedom to worship God together at any age.
Hopefully I shall water a few of those seeds in my novel-in-progress, The Magdalene Mystery, honoring the woman who saw the resurrected Christ, who saw love incarnate, who saw perfect freedom.