Worship in an age of distractions (Part 1)

Worship in an age of distractions (Part 1)

A COUPLE of years back, our parish priest admitted during a homily that he had gone incognito—wearing jeans and ordinary shirt—to observe an evangelicals’ service which run regularly in a popular mall. He said the most noticeable thing about the service was the energy: “I found it so alive, so vibrant, with everybody singing and attentive to the lecture!” He did not comment on the content of the teaching or the ritual, though; apparently he was so engulfed by the vibrancy that he soon realized it was what was missing in our parish’s Eucharistic celebrations.

Later it dawned upon him that the attendants at the mall service were young adults—the very age group that was least represented in our own Masses in the parish. While our Sunday Masses are well attended by people aged one to one hundred, from infants in their mother or father’s arms to great grandparents in wheelchairs, the priest said “young adults seem to be the fewest, although their number increases significantly during ‘bonggacious’ or big and special occasions like Holy Week and Simbang Gabi. Bakit kaya?”

Just about a month ago, at a supermarket queue one Sunday, I stood next to a mother with an older-teen daughter and a much younger son; I couldn’t help tuning in to their little drama. The daughter—probably aged 18-20 and in trendy attire—was apparently asking the mother permission to let her off for Mass that day. She and a girlfriend were planning to go “malling” in the evening, and she thought it convenient to just join her friend at her evangelical church service that afternoon in the mall.
The mother was unwilling to grant it, saying “Eh di pagkatapos ng Misa kayo magkita.” (You can meet later after the Mass).

But the young lady was insistent, pouting and whining, “Pareho din naman yun eh, bible din naman don…” (It’s the same anyway, they also teach the bible). But the mother was stern and emphatic: “Me simbahan kang sarili, ba’t dun ka pa pupunta? Katoliko ka pa ba?” (You have your own church, why do you have to go there? Are you still a Catholic?)The young lady made a face and muttered: “Ang saya kaya don!” (How happy it is there!)

I wonder how it played out as they walked away still arguing and it was my turn at the cash register, but that incident reminded me of our parish priest’s remarks after his anonymous participation at the mall service—making me notice that even with our new (and older) parish priest now, the former’s assessment about the youth’s presence at Mass in our parish remains valid. Curiously, the memory of the two incidents linked itself to a third and older one, this time involving a couple (active in Bibliarasal) who invited me to join their family to Holy Mass at PICC, a four-hour affair with speakers led by Bo Sanchez doing the “front act” prior to Mass. Since we were joining several other people at a despedida party in the CCP restaurant complex that Sunday, I obliged.

Nothing prepared me for it—I thought it was only going to be “Mass at PICC” but I found myself alternately amused, amazed, and befuddled, sitting through part rock band concert, part motivational seminar (tips on becoming “truly rich”, of all things!), part faith sharing, part inspirational pep talks, and yes, the Holy Mass capping it. If the whole thing were a pie sliced into ten equal wedges, the Mass would be just one wedge—in terms of the event’s power to bombard the senses or capture the attention of the audience. At Mass I would wonder a few times what the Vatican says about this truly mix-and-match approach to worship.

On the way to the despedida, I remembered that my hosts’ residence was only 50 meters away from their parish church, prompting me to ask, “Siyanga pala, hindi ba kapitbahay niyo lang ang parish church? Dumadayo pa kayo sa PICC para magsimba?” (By the way, isn’t the parish church your neighbor—and you come all the way to PICC to hear Mass?) Their reply: “Hindi naman Linggo-Linggo—nagsisimba din kami sa parish—ditto minsan lang, pagtinatamad na sa pagsisimba ang mga bata (aged 19-22). Okay din naman dito,di ba? Nandito nang lahat, maraming kuwento, maraming mapupulot, masaya, me tutugan at kantahan, hindi ka aantukin, me Misa pa. Tapos kumakain kami sa labas, konting bonding.” (Not every Sunday, really—we also hear Mass in the parish—and here only occasionally, when the children (aged 19-22) are already dragging their feet to Mass. It’s okay here, don’t you think? Everything’s here—lots of stories, lots to learn, it’s enjoyable, there’s music and singing, you won’t fall asleep, plus there’s Mass. Then we eat out, for a bit of bonding). (To be continued)