By Fr. Jeffrey Robideau
On 9-22-2018, over 13,000 people gathered at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, MI. The day started at the cathedral cross the street from the state capital building in Lansing. From there began a 4 mile Eucharistic Procession to the Breslin Center in East Lansing. When they arrived at the Breslin Center, there was a short adoration and benediction. This was followed by a break to eat lunch and check out the venders on the mezzanine. Next there were three talks and finally at the end of the day there was Mass.
Please keep in mind that this day was a few years in the making and it was well planned out. I found few flaws with the practical aspects of the day. But as a priest, I am not concerned about the practical aspects of the day. I am concerned about the spiritual impact in the work of salvation of souls. With that being said, the rest of this article is not about the Made for happiness Assembly but about all events like this one. So, now let me use the event as a way to point out a few things I think are problematic in general with such events and with things going on in the church today.
As to the Eucharistic procession: Several of the priests were talking, joking, laughing, putting their arms around each other (don’t ask, don’t tell, at least they were not holding hands), and just simply walking as if they were completely oblivious that there, 25 feet in front of us, was Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament. They were also high fiving and shaking hands with laity they knew as we went down the street. This disrespectful and irreverent behavior was indeed a witness to the laity who also were talking and other things as they walked behind the priest.
Adoration? It went well except that they did not give any time for silent adoration. But the BAND sure was given their part. You cannot have sacred silence if there is a band. It is the law, or so they think.
The three talks were fine. The first talk by Fr. Mike Schmitz was actually very good. There were a few more points I would like to have heard him make, but I understand that there are time limitations. The second talk was a conversion story. It was weak, but I admit that it may have touched a few hearts. The third talk was by a deacon from New Orleans. While his message was fine, he unfortunately found it necessary to play the protestant Baptist/televangelist minister approach, prompting the people to raise their hands and to shout “amen, alleluia, glory to God.”
And finally the Mass. I cannot speak to this last part as I did not stay. I had other duties I had to attend to.
I believe that the Holy Spirit may have worked in a few hearts during the day, but why only a few? After all the people were really pumped up!!! Yes, and in lays the problem. If you have ever been to one of these type of events or a jamboree of some sort, you know that the band is the heart and soul of the event. It is about the music. Music has a way of manipulating people. That bass drum in particular plays a pivotal role. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. It makes your heart beat. Music elicits an emotional response. You do not even need to understand the words. They are almost irrelevant. This emotional response, this emotional high that we get is unreal, but people feel good about it. They confuse this emotional high brought about by music as a spiritual high brought about by God. They think that because they felt something that they must love God. I am sure the devil must love this point. If people are fooled into thinking that this is faith enflamed, then they will not seek out true devotion in the secret, quiet recesses of their heart. The devil loves noise where we cannot hear God speak.
The problem is that when they go home, there is no band, no music, no dynamic speaker or MC, no group dynamic of the crowd feeding on each others emotion, no excitement of being with the bishop, no one to lead them in prayer. Nothing, just the individual and God alone together. The high cannot maintain itself and it fades quickly. Now they pray and pray, but they cannot manifest the same emotional high and so are now troubled and confused. Why am I not able to reproduce the high? As if the high was the goal. After all we are made for happiness… Right? Wrong. We are made for God. Only when our hearts are possessed by God will we know joy and happiness and even still not necessarily in this life. This joy is only promised if we make it to heaven. In this life the only promise is that there will be pain and suffering, want and unfulfilled hopes and dreams. If we are blessed by God we may even know times of happiness in this life. These times are a gift. So to pump people up in an emotional frenzy and to tell them this is what God feels like is a lie and does them a disservice in their spiritual life.
In many parishes, they use music at Mass in the same way and so these people can get a little pick-me-up on Sunday, but it too cannot sustain itself and quickly fades. By Monday or sooner they are spiritless again, just waiting to get their next faults fix of the Holy Spirit. This fix, this emotional high is dangerous to the spiritual life. Prayer and worship now becomes about the fix, not about a loving encounter with God. And like all natural and worldly phenomena in our life, it will eventually become boring and we will end up seeking the next newest and greatest fad and not God.
This is what I love about the traditional liturgical music of the Church. Both the chants and the hymns were not meant to elicit an emotional response, but a spiritual response. The simple use of the organ was meant to assist us in lifting our hearts and minds to God, not to emotion. But once you experience these events, you can hardly go back to this. It becomes boring and uninspiring. We start to lust for base guitars and drums instead to do the work we are not willing to do. Who wants to work for a spiritual high when we are willing to settle for an easy emotional high?
So, yes, the music was problematic for me. But then again, I cannot blame them in that this is what has become the expected norm. In their pursuit to be relevant to the culture and society of today, they have become less and less relevant to the Faith. This is sad, but they are satisfied with themselves even if God is not.
The next thing that was problematic for me was the message they gave about the ongoing priestly scandal. They stayed to the narrative of the hierarchy. It was told to us that there has always been problems with the clergy of one kind or another and that there always will be. The church is made up of people and we are all sinners. The Holy Spirit has always gotten us through it as Scripture tells us that the gates of hell will never prevail over her. So move along folks, there is nothing to see here, just more of the same. Don’t worry about it. Certainly there is nothing here to lose your faith over. Just make sure you keep praying. And for God’s sake, please we beg you, do not try to fix this problem, leave that to the Holy Spirit.
It is true that the Church is made up of people and so there will always be problems. The fact is, I am not responsible for the problems of the past. I am responsible before God for the problems of today. God will hold me and you responsible for what we do or fail to do to correct the problem of today. While it is true that the Holy Spirit will work all this out, He will not do it except for through a human agent as He usually does. Prophets and rabble-rousers need to rise up to present truth and to demand change.
My last point is on how the day could have been better. This is not 20/20 hindsight, I have been saying this all along as they have been working to bring this event about. It should have started three years ago with the first synod. They should have at this time said that we have been on the wrong road. We have been going the dangerous and heretical road of modernism and we will now right our wrong. We will return to the fullness of the faith by teaching the fullness of truth. We will repair our liturgies and do the red and say the black. We will no longer introduce fad, ingenuity and the cult of personality into the liturgy but keep it reverent and sacred. We will use good solid Catholic traditional hymns and chant so that music does not become a cult unto itself. We will teach moral standards and preach against the immorality of things like contraception and homosexuality. And we will uphold solid Catholic forms of prayer and spiritual/devotional readings and denounce all forms of new age and other such things.
Implementing this plan for three years, having hearts and minds changed and rooted in Christ and enflamed by the Holy Spirit… we could have truly shaken the foundation of the Bresin Center and beyond. Heck, at this point, I would have jumped up and danced on my seat and sing my little heart out loud. The difference is that it would have been the Holy Spirit rocking my world and not the band.
These are just my thoughts about the day. I have others, but these are the most pertinent. God Bless.