Familiarity in Cleveland

"You look familiar."
"So do you"
"Hmmm…. Chicago… St. Ignatius Parish…. Loyola University?"
"I go to Loyola! I live on Columbia Avenue."
"I live on Rosemont!"
"We're neighbors!"

This was a chance occurrence at Mass today of two people whose paths have crossed before and only through measured deliberation could this occurrence reveal the power of what it means to be familiar.

It is funny how you can travel across the country and find people you know. This conversation took place right before the funeral of Mary Flannigan, someone I never knew but had the privilege of wishing her welcome into to the embrace of the Eternal.

Sr. Lisa Marie was my familiar friend and to meet her on a pilgrimage is a reminder of the Providence of God. Although it did not come to me, it was Sr. Lisa Marie's familiarity with Latin that helped determine the name of this website and corporation. "Ad Sodalitatem" which means toward solidarity were words that she helped me formulate over the obtuse constructs of a Latin word. That was over a year ago when we both in a class on St. Paul at Loyola University. Now we gathered in a familiar ritual to say good bye to someone in our family of Faith.

In college, I had a teacher who loved to study the roots of words. The root of the word familiar is the same as the root of family. To be familiar means in someway to be family.

At St. Noel's parish, there was a lot that was familiar. But it was familiar in the same way that near strangers have to work through clouded memories in order to remember how they know each other. St. Noel doe not have a steeple. Entering the parish looks like entering a corporate office space, well equipped with a large parking lot. The parish does not have an abundance of stain glass windows. They do not have the traditional arches of a Gothic church as I have seen the last few days. But it was familiar.

Even the ritual had a familiarity that revealed itself only through sluggish awakening. Instead of the Priest sprinkling Holy water over the casket, he invited all the assembled to do so as they entered the church. Instead of preaching from a book, he recited the Gospel verbatim. Instead of a dull drone mumbling through the Eucharistic Prayer, Fr. George Smiga sang the prayer of consecrations. It was all very different from what I have seen the last few days, but it was… familiar.

One of the major purposes of this trip is to highlight the unity and diversity of the Catholic Church. Human persons get very territorial about things that are important to us… especially the Church. I've heard comments such as, a church building should have statues, stain glass, gold leaf on high altars, ascending ceilings. The music should be older than when I was born and played on an organ (not to mention that the Bible calls for us to sing NEW songs and not on organs), there should only be men at the altar, and lots of bells and incense. It is not wrong to have preferences and tradition. The danger is when it reduces us to a form of territorialism is that it separates us rather than unites us as human beings and Christians.

St. Noel's parish, (which IF YOU HAVE LOADED GOOGLE EARTH, you can view the pictures by clicking here) caused my spirit to soar with the same venture that the world's greatest cathedrals do, but it was made out of nothing more than brick and glass. The Saints were not represented in statues, but in the living faithful gathered around the altar. The Stations of the Cross follow a stone path through the church that ask for your imagination to be employed as you pray. The altar, where the gifts of bread and wine are consecrated, remains prominent and dignified.

I am hurt that there are those who cannot see the beauty in a church such as this. It was different. Yes. We all have our preferences and what we like. Yes. We all have ways of praying that work better for us. Yes. But in the end, it was familiar. Yes… familiar.

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