Sunday, April 6, 2014

What the Church SHOULD Look Like!

Retirement Mass for Fr. Paul Desch OFM--Holy Name Church, Cincinnati.
Holy Name Church, Mt. Auburn, Cincinnati

After the wonderful service at Holy Name
Emily, Fr. Paul Desch OFM, and Brian Homan

Today we attended the retirement mass and celebration for Fr. Paul Desch OFM [Franciscan] at Holy Name Church in the Mt. Auburn neighborhood of Cincinnati. Fr. Paul is a wonderful man and a great priest and minister of the gospel. His church community is joyful, diverse, and a little left of orthodox (Thank God! Thank God!).

Fr. Paul Desch is 85 years old and his ten-year term as pastor is coming to an end. He has built up and maintained a lively community, absolutely infused with the Holy Spirit. Any Christian, no matter the denomination, and I think most non-Christians, would feel at home here. There is a healthy diversity present, black and white, new babies up to Miss Roberto, 101 years old. I met 2 physicians and their 3 children (Mr and Mrs. Rahner), parishioners who come a long way to attend this mass, talked to 3 members of a visiting choir from Munich Germany, and shook hands with and hugged about 20 members of Fr. Desch's family (who are now, by marriage of my daughter Emily to Fr. Paul's grand-nephew Brian Homan, my family). I am so happy to know this interesting, loving family and to have this little connection to Fr. Paul.

Here are some random thoughts about the event:

  • the music seemed heavily influenced by African-American church music. The keyboardist, a large black fellow, was incredible, sometimes playing organ and piano simultaneously. His style was lively and fun. The choir was terrific.
  • during the sermon, Fr. Paul mentioned how, when we leave church after mass every Sunday, we shouldn't feel like we had just left a funeral. I began to think how often I leave church feeling worse than when I came in. Life is too short for that. The church community should lift you up.
  • Fr. Paul makes some modifications, on the fly, to the readings and the prescribed text of the mass. Not sure how conscious all of these modifications are, but they seem to humanize the mass and make it seem more like a communal supper and celebration than the old model of the the priest doing something mysterious and special for us. The mass is our celebration. It is community, communal.
  • Fr. Paul's message and style is inclusive, forgiving, and welcoming. It is not the hate-infused message, the condemnations, the narrow-minded focus I have seen in some Catholic churches. Fr. Paul is a community builder and bridge builder.
  • It is odd that it's often the older priests, those infused and informed by the ethos of the Second Vatican Council, that communicate this spirit. The older priests are much younger and more open-minded than many of the younger priests. How do you explain that?
  • Fr. Paul loves to sing and song can break out at any time during mass. Before the reading of the gospel Lazarus story, Fr. Paul broke out into the old song "Dem Dry Bones." Later, we heard some singing in German, "Du, Du, Liegst Mir im Herzen"--"You, You, Are Deep in My Heart."
  • At the end of the mass, Sister Liz extended her hand toward Fr. Paul (as we in the congregation did) and blessed him. Many people laid on hands in this blessing. We, non-priests, are as capable of giving a blessing as ordained priests. This was a wonderful final touch.
  • I think the true church can be found everywhere (and, it often seems, nowhere). It is not just inside the walls of a Catholic church. It is often in the least expected places. And I found it in a church with very modest resources, with a small congregation, in the Mt. Auburn neighborhood of Cincinnati. Thank You!!
[Monday night, April 7th]

I just talked to my daughter Carolan (who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and works in Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness). She had been at Emily's wedding last summer when Fr. Paul Desch had the mass and officiated at the wedding. At that time Carolan remarked, "I feel as if that's the first time I've ever been to mass." Fr. Paul's mass celebrations can feel that different and that special.

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