“Dad, guess what!”
My eight-year-old son Joseph came home from a recent weekend stay with his grandparents. It was his first weekend spent away from his parents, and evidently, he had some exciting news.
“Oh boy,” I thought, “what crazy codswallop did my dad teach him now?”
“They sang ‘Companions on the Journey‘ at Grandpa’s church!” Joseph exclaimed, his eyes lighting up.
Well, if that isn’t enough to get an eight-year-old fired up, I don’t know what is. My boy evidently attended Mass at the parish where I grew up.
How could I ever forget Carey Landry’s worship hit, “Companions on the Journey”? Landry released this song in 1985, subsequently the same year of his release from the priesthood. If you have never heard “Companions on the Journey,” then you clearly have never been fed and nourished by the strength of those who care, much less have been gifted with each other.
My son’s comment brought me back to my own childhood — those liturgically farcical 1990s. As many will attest, to grow up in the pre–Summorum Pontificum days was not for the faint of heart. There’s a reason why only 26% of Catholics my age, if that, believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. Each Mass was a mission in survival. Here are some of my church memories:
I remember kneeling with my family for the consecration at Mass, conspicuously up at the front of the church, while everyone else stood.
I remember being snickered at by parishioners because of the size of our family (I have six siblings).
I remember being bawled out after Mass, by a future deacon, for singing a Latin hymn.
I remember having a priest assert, with startling resentment, that going to weekly Confession was “an abuse of the sacrament.”
I especially remember the monotonous sappy hymns, felt “Peace” banners, lay blessings, endless liturgical gimmicks (i.e., turning on ceiling fans for Pentecost Sunday), and an endless array of parish council personages meandering throughout the sanctuary, terrorizing every “Sunday celebration.”
Orchestrating this delectable mess of non-inspiring Catholicism was Susan. Yes, I mean the Susan from the Parish Council. As sure as people of the Amazon wear feathers in Rome, she is real.
Who is Susan? As she recently explained on Twitter (she’s relevant and hip): “A lot of people are wondering just exactly who I am. The answer is very simple: I’m Susan. I’m in your parish, I’m in your chancery, I’m in your family. I am everywhere. And I run the Church.”
Susan is the prototypical Spirit of Vatican II, senior (citizen), parish overlord. She is assertively liberal, aggressively anti-traditional, inexplicably angry, and rather boorish and predictable. Susan is the one compelling strangers to hold hands at the Our Father. She derides the young man who requests that the rosary be prayed before Mass. Susan manipulates and controls the priest, the choir, and all the many useful idiots in the pews. She knows all the necessary phrases, such as active participation, worship space, and even the recent new pathways mantra, and she is repulsed by dictums such as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, mortal sin, silence, and piety. She is, in short, the universal soldier of Vatican II, wrangling hope away from the young and accompanying them towards despair. She is sympathetic if followed blindly, a bully if challenged. And perhaps most importantly, Susan has all the time in the world.
Susan controlled my church life growing up. Or so she thought. The suffering caused by Susan, at least for me personally, brought a fighting spirit for the Faith. There are other memories I have:
I remember frequently adding holy water to the Lenten sand. Even Jesus made mud when necessary.
I remember throwing out all those heretical pamphlets at the back of the church every week. And just to disparage the social justice activists, I didn’t recycle them.
I remember my siblings and myself having a flawless impersonation of every Susan-styled Catholic in our parish. We even made up comic strips of them and videotaped skits. It was Sunday Morning Live.
I remember sneaking into the church with my sister late one night. I took the “presider’s chair” out from the middle of the sanctuary, and then I moved the “altar table” (i.e., the altar) to the center, where it belonged. Boy, did that cause a stir the next morning. Judging by the stern reactions, one would think I had just denied climate change.
And I remember laughing at the choir almost every Sunday, and deliberately altering the lyrics to their songs. For example, with all due respect to Carey Landry’s “We are companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life,” my siblings and I would bellow, “We are companions on the journey, eating bread and cherry pie!” Utter ridiculousness, I know. Somehow, it was fitting.
Susan hated me growing up. Truth be told, the feeling was mutual. By the grace of God, and through solid family faith, I was a rebel child who just wouldn’t be broken into accepting her new pathways. Thank you, Jesus. I can’t imagine where I would be if I had.
The other parishioners my age have long since left the Faith; I would be shocked if my home parish remains for my grandchildren to see it. Susan had her effect. That is the irony of it all. Susan, as elderly as ever, still clutches power. In fact, as the current Pan-Amazon Synod seems to be affirming Susan’s entire life work, she perhaps has never before enjoyed such dominion over parishes and chanceries. But it will all be for naught. Susan from the Parish Council has been impelling the youth to flee the Church for fifty years. Youths are now but a remnant, a fading memory, soon to vanish entirely. Susan will be lording it over an empty church.
This brings me back to my son’s recent stay at his grandparent’s house.
“They sang ‘Companions on the Journey’ at Grandpa’s church!” my son Joseph merrily informed me.
“And…?” I wondered.
He continued, squealing with delight: “So I sang ‘eating bread and cherry pie’ as loud as I could!”
Alas for Susan, though her own parishes are gasping for life and relevance, secretly, a new generation is rising. This new generation is not being raised by the authoritarian Spirit of Vatican II. Rather, like my children, it is being trained to pray in Latin; memorize the old catechisms; be virtuous; receive the sacraments at the traditional Latin Mass; and yes, even to mock the hymns of Carey Landry and his disciples. It is enough to make Susan shrill with horror; this is not the end of True Faith, but only the beginning.
Susan had better plan on living a long, long time.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.