A recent article (see footnote) published by the National Catholic Reporter Okla. bishop no longer faces people at Mass produced a series of long drawn out and downright nasty responses, which reminded me how bitter and militant some Catholics have become among themselves about their faith. Ironically the argument was not centered on the bishop’s decision to return to the Latin mass, but rather about the liturgically correct compass direction that the celebrant must face.
If we recognized that God created our ever expanding universe we would quickly come to the realization that there are no fixed compass points beyond the boundaries of this earth. Hence, God exists beyond our finite understandings and beliefs. I imagine that this fact might also cause our Muslim brothers and sisters some difficulties or concerns. A compass point in space therefore exist only relative to the position of each individual observer. Is it not comforting to realize that God is everywhere and we need not worry about where to find him?
The bishop’s argument is of course based on a period of Church history when it was believed that our sun and the earth were the center of the universe. Early challengers to this belief such as Galileo paid a heavy price for those views. Despite waning support and heavy losses in world- wide attendance the Church seems to want to return to a pre-Vatican II period. Or perhaps, a period when the Church exercised a more powerful influence on the shape of the world. Regardless of its intent and desire, however noble and holy that may seem, it cannot hope to survive based on fixed and outdated models which do not reflect our modern understandings. If the Church is to be relevant it must reach beyond established boundaries.
Old Testament writers seem to have anticipated this problem long ago, when an Angel directed Elijah where to find God:
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 1 Kings 19:11-12
When we try to solve problems strictly based on worldly and outdated or prescribed norms we will often find ourselves in conflict with others and even ourselves. As adults we need to learn to find the God within (the only true role of the Church) and thereby trust ourselves. If I try to live my life based on that of another I will merely mimic a false idea of who I truly am – a unique and beloved son of God.
When there is so much distraction in our lives, so many false voices, so many superimposed dogmas and doctrines, it can be very difficult to locate God in the sheer silence. But now we can be sure that God resides deep in our hearts and in the heart of every human being. It is not a question of facing East or West, North or South, the wind or earthquake but a matter of listening for His gentle and silent Voice.