In a scene from John Ford’s 1952 movie “The Quiet Man,” John Wayne as Sean Thornton, spots Maureen O’Hara coming out of church. He gallantly scoops up a handful of holy water and offers it to her from his palm.

Well, as sweet as that was, those days, like John and Maureen, are gone forever. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church are trapped behind the walls of the Vatican, where only the splashing of the fountains breaks the deadly silence.

Still, in the face of this dilemma, many Christians and all other religious faithful of the planet are seeking refuge in houses of worship, only to find in most cases, the doors closed and locked.

I remember only a few years ago visiting the church of my baptism and finding the doors locked.

An old man sweeping the steps told me, “It hasn’t been open in years except for weddings, and even that stopped.”

The convent across the street from the house I grew up in was once alive with activity, nuns and church officials coming and going. We played in the gardens and gravel walkways. It was the Mother House of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Now it’s empty, and has become a national monument. Sister Amelia would have loved that.

The sisters who once filled its halls have dwindled in number to three or four, and live across the street in a small bungalow, a clear symbol of the decline of the church.

My relatives in St. Louis tell me of a church, once the center of a neighborhood, that no longer celebrates Mass, and is locked daily due to “mischief and robberies.” There is a buzzer near the door, they say, that you can ring if you want to visit. Imagine a buzzer to make a visit.

“Hello, is Jesus there? Can Jesus come chat?”

Before long there will be an app for talking to God.

Jesus said (in Matthew 18:20): “Whenever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Two or three? Jesus knew social distancing was coming? Of course. He knew I was.

Two or three could sit far apart in distant pews, backs to the door, and survive. But hundreds, thousands, millions?

Jesus, I hope, will still be among them, where the ropes of the past still bind the faithful.

So, it’s getting worse. Online messages are telling us that like the Episcopal Dioceses of Los Angeles this week, church leaders around the country are ordering priests to stop offering Communion wine, the ancient practice first shared at the last supper where the cup, once wooden, now shiny gold, is passed from lip to lip sharing the blood of Christ.

What? I don’t know where this is practiced. I grew up in the church, served beside the priest at Mass and never saw or heard of that interesting practice.

If this practice existed then, my father and brothers would have attended all three Sunday Masses.

Yes, in offering the host, the priest’s fingers often touch the lips of the chalice, and surely spread the demon seeds of colds, chapped lips, cold sores and yes, the coronavirus.

Which brings us this morning to the practice of hugging and handshaking, and even kisses, that research tells us became a common element during the peace ritual in the Holy Mass long ago.

Wisely, that practice is being discontinued.

A word to the confused. You don’t have to go to a building with or without a steeple, to talk to your God. You don’t have to go anywhere. You can talk to your God, Allah, however you address your deity, from your bathroom, the basement, garden, your car or even in prison. I can guarantee you that the infamous Harvey Weinstein, in his prison cell, is right now on his arthritic knees, begging his Yahweh for mercy.

As this evil floats around us this Passover and Easter, talk to your neighbors, call the elderly and ask what you can do for them. If you count yourself among the elderly, talk to God when you’re in the shower or stirring the sauce, and ask what you can do for others.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, when faced with a dilemma, I asked my old friend Bernie Goldman, “Would it help to pray?”

His reply was pure Goldman: “It couldn’t hurt.”

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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