Left Alone – Karl Keating – Who can pray amid cacophony? (God speaks in the gentle wind, not the crashing gale.)
By Karl Keating
In a letter to an inquirer, Msgr. Ronald Knox told the story “of a convert in Newcastle who was asked why he became a Catholic, and he said he tried all the other places of worship, and everywhere they thrust a hymn-book into his hand, and stood at the door asking him to come again—except at the Catholic church, where nobody took any notice of you at all.”Some people would be scandalized by this story, as they would be by Knox’s further remarks: “I always think there’s something specially intriguing about our churches in the middle of London—not only the Cathedral and the Oratory, but little churches like Maiden Lane off the Strand, and Warwick Street—where you never know who your next-door neighbor is, or care; everybody gets on with his or her own prayers, and there are no questions asked.”Call it Greta Garbo Catholicism: “I want to be left alone.” It is out of fashion nowadays, especially in parishes where people thrust their hands at you at the Our Father and walk across the aisle to give you a hug during the Sign of Peace. They won’t leave you to yourself, even if you want to be.
It extends beyond motions during Mass. In many churches private prayer is impossible except for the deaf: Before and after Mass people mill about, talking as though they were in a theater lobby waiting for the ushers to open the inner doors. No effort is made to keep “holy silence.” Who can pray amid cacophony? (God speaks in the gentle wind, not the crashing gale.)
(I add to this the lack of silence during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during formal Adoration. – my update 12-5-2008
Individuals coming in to be with Jesus are unable to hear God due to small groups of people ( I call interest groups since they think to tell me how I am to pray in private prayer) doing their routine vocal prayers. God has a right to the silence to speak to each person. I have a right as an individual to silence to learn to listen to God in His Presence. )
But it is more than a matter of silence. It is not just that people want to be left alone to pray. They often just want to be left alone. They need elbow room, both spiritual and actual. Some people like to be invited onto committees, while others prefer to remain uninvited. Some like to pray in groups, while others prefer to work out their faith in solitary fear and trembling. There should be a place in the Church, and in our churches, for both emphases.Whenever I read or hear read the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, I envision the former standing at the front in a conveniently located shaft of light, while the latter is off in a shadowy corner, hidden behind a pillar. No one pays attention to the figure at the rear—except God. Change the parable a bit and imagine the Pharisee to be as humble as the publican. Both now are good guys. The two differ chiefly in the way they exercise their religion: one in a more public way, one in a more secluded way. There is something to be said for either approach.Today such an emphasis is put on the corporate angle that the individual angle has suffered. People are made to feel guilty for not being “sociable.” This is a shame. Their critics have forgotten that sometimes folks want to commune just with God and not with the community.