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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Irksome Fr. Bellows

There is on the staff of a church in New York a part-time priest who is the exemplar of the (now thankfully disappearing) hearty, post-conciliar activist cleric. The man can't sing to save his life and he is tone deaf to boot. He exacts revenge against our God for that handicap by caterwauling so woefully and so off key even those sitting in the last pew, hard up against the narthex, struggle to resist holding their ears (the pain is partially relieved by the amusing sight of worshipers wincing at each loud, missed-by-a-mile note). Fr. Bellows (we will call him) has an aversion to elevating the host, barely lifting it above his nose and so fleetingly you'll miss it if you blink. Similarly with the chalice: tightly gripped in one hand with the seeming reverence due a beer stein and thrust forward as though he were cheering the MVP of a softball game. You almost expect it to be slammed down on the altar with a call for another round.

To his credit, when in the pulpit (which isn't always--sometimes he likes to shout from the sanctuary), Fr. Bellows shows he is perfectly capable of crafting a decent homily but often as not, he ruins it with his wildly emotive recitation, waving of the arms and long, overly dramatic pauses. A pity: if he simply spoke his text clearly and briskly, without fuss, his message would be much better received, even if we don't always agree with his post-Vatican II sentiments.

But surely the most annoying trait of Fr. Bellows (who seems to be the Catholic personification of the Rev'd Scot Sloan), more than his 110 decibel glad-handling, is his unsettling Cheshire Cat-like grin, sported throughout the mass and reminding one of a TV evangelist. "Wipe, sir, that protestant smirk off your face; you may take delight in yourself but there are those of us who do not, not by a damn sight," we are tempted to say. We do not, of course; as Catholics we must be obedient and behave. Instead, my quasi-Thomistic response is to recall a Robert Browning poem my dad would read to me when a boy, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, and remember (again) the sins charged to Brother Lawrence by his bilious accuser are no more egregious than the accuser's own, beginning with his very act of accusing. Mea maxima culpa.
There's a great text in Galatians,
Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine distinct damnations,
One sure, if another fails;
If I trip him just a-dying,
Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
Off to hell, a Manichee?

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