Today is St. Benedict’s Day, and I am at a monastery in the middle of a vast cornfield. The monastery is the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, situated among the rolling green stretches of Nebraska, the only state of the Union that has managed to run its politics from a “unicameral” legislature (meaning they trust each other enough not to need two houses looking over each other’s shoulders). Every state in these United States is beautiful in its own way, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the serene farmlands between Omaha and Lincoln….
The sisters in this monastery chose to leave San Francisco 25 years ago for the “flyover” state of Nebraska (with a stop in Las Vegas, which didn’t work out!). They wanted to return to the more traditional forms of worship, and they are bursting with novices: over forty sisters, most of them under 35. If Church leadership really wants to renew parishes and religious orders, it need look no further than the healthy inclusion of the more traditional forms of worship in the Church’s liturgical life. No one can deny the numbers: more traditional parishes and religious communities have been growing for 60 years while less traditional communities are dying out. When Hollywood wants to portray “Catholic,” it portrays parishes and schools and nuns who look Catholic!
But it is not only in the monastery that Catholicism flourishes near Lincoln. Yesterday I got invited to a “pig roast” at a local home. Backyards are spacious in Nebraska, so when I got to the picnic about 150 people had already arrived. Parents were chatting in small groups, six or seven of the local priests stood about in their cassocks, and hordes of children were chasing each other over the lush green grass. I had a good talk with the party’s hostess, a mother of twelve, one of whom was a priest that I had worked with in years past.
At 6pm her husband, who serves as physician, mentor, and all-around elder to the neighborhood, called out for one of the priests to lead the Angelus. Everyone knew how to pray it, when to kneel, and when to stand. It was a beautifully Catholic picnic: smiling parents, racing children, venerable priests, delightful food and drinks and games, barking dogs and heartfelt prayers. No one was left out. If the Vatican, or any diocesan chancery, wants to know how to evangelize, it need look no further than the joy and the love flowing through some of our more traditionally-minded communities.
The above comes from a July 11 posting on Father Illo’s Blog. Father Joseph Illo is pastor of Star of the Sea parish in San Francisco.