Monday, August 16, 2010

How many Catholics do you know?

Last week at scout camp I went to mass for the first time. Well, not my first time at mass, but my first time at mass up there. It was very interesting.

Camp runs from Sunday at around noon to Saturday at around noon. Since I have to leave Sunday morning before 10 AM to get up there, and since I usually spend about two hours remembering last minute things and packing the car before that, I go to Saturday evening mass, so I don't have to get up early.

Each year, we get a tour of the camp that includes the Jewish chapel, and we are told that there's a Protestant chapel and a Catholic chapel. We are told that there are "services" on Sunday night. I had assumed that these were prayer services. I didn't consider that an actual mass would be said at camp out in the woods. I guess it was the word "service" that threw me. I'm used to hearing the word "mass" and when I hear "service" it's usually not a mass.

So when one of the Catholic dads in the troop announced he was going to the mass on Sunday night, my ears perked up. It turns out he talked to someone and found out there was mass at the Catholic chapel. Three of us went on down. Our first task was to find the Catholic chapel. We all knew where the Jewish chapel was, from the tour, and we knew where the Protestant chapel was, since it's on the way to the far end of the monkey bridge across the lake. However, we just had vague directions to the Catholic chapel.

The directions turned out to be good enough, and we found it without trouble. It was a regular Catholic mass, very rustic, but reverently celebrated. What did surprise me though, were the number of people there. There were entire troops (not ours) there in class A uniforms. Not only that, but a whole bunch of people from my own troop, who I never realized were practicing Catholics. For my part, at least one of them didn't realize I was a practicing Catholic. I guess it's not something that we feel comfortable asking people these days.

As I knelt on the leaves and sticks of the forest floor, watching bread and wine being transformed into Our Lord, it made me think back to the horrible folk masses of my youth and the song "They'll know we are Christians". How many people could tell I am Christian, let alone Catholic, by seeing the way I behave outside of mass? Why don't we all talk about our faith, as we talk about politics, sport, and every other "important" aspect of our lives?

The saying "preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary" has often been (incorrectly) attributed to Saint Francis. Whoever said this had the right idea, though. In my "secular" life I am surrounded by atheists who have no problem proselytizing, wearing their belief like a badge of honor on their sleeve, yet how many times do I proclaim the Gospel publicly in my daily life?

[N.B. The picture above is not the Catholic chapel at scout camp. I neglected to take a picture of it. Perhaps next year I will remember.]


Excellent question, Mike! As a "professional" religious person (at
least until recently when I left my church-affiliated work), people
expected me to be, well, religious. But meeting "normal" people in the
course of my day, I often wonder if I am recognized as a faithful
Catholic. Heck, sometimes I wonder if my children recognize me as a
faithful Catholic! You bring up a question that I need to consider
regularly. Thank you for that!

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