Sunday, August 14, 2022

Churches of the Silver Valley: St. Rita's Catholic Church, Kellogg

(Part 10 in an ongoing series.)

I began this series by visiting one of the Silver Valley's three Catholic churches -- St. Alphonsus in Wallace. Today I visited another one, St. Rita's in Kellogg. 

Tomorrow, Aug. 15, is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which, in my personal theology -- focused as it is on Mary and the Sacred Feminine -- marks one of the highlights of the church year. At least one early pope regarded it on the same level as Christmas and Easter, and as theologically significant as the Incarnation and Resurrection. 

The pious belief that Mary was taken body and soul to heaven dates back to possibly as early as the second century. When the Catholic Church declared the Assumption a dogma in 1950, psychologist Carl Jung considered it "the most important religious event since the Reformation," declaring the church's declaration to be the fulfillment of a "deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as 'Queen of heaven and Bride at the heavenly court.'"

Honestly, either you get it or you don't, and most people don't. Not even a lot of Catholics do.

Anyway, there isn't going to be an Assumption Mass in the Valley, other than a small gathering for the Coeur d'Alene Indians at the old Cataldo Mission. The tribe owns the church, which today is more a historical site than an active place of worship, and I got the impression from asking around that even though the Indians can't bar people from visiting a church that today sits on state park property, they don't really want the public around for their Mass. So I figured a stop at St. Rita's the day before the Assumption would have to be good enough for a pseudo-Assumption celebration this year.

First, a little bit about the building. Having been built in 1972, it's the youngest of the three Catholic church buildings in the Valley. 

A narrow narthex runs the length of the church, filled with bulletins, Catholic literature, and even a few free rosaries. A group of people were, in fact, reciting the rosary in the sanctuary when I got to church about 15 minutes before Mass. And if you were at all confused about what kind of church you'd walked into, there were photos of Pope Francis and Bishop Peter Christensen to greet you before you stepped off to the right and into the sanctuary.

The brick-walled sanctuary itself is laid out like an auditorium, with two middle sections of pews and one more section at an angle on each side, all pointing toward the altar at the bottom of the sloped floor.

I don't know what a typical turnout is for St. Rita's, but there were around 100 people there today. By the time Mass began, there wasn't an empty pew left. 

Although the Valley's Catholic churches won't be observing the Assumption, it was nice to see that St. Rita's at least acknowledged the day through music. Our opening song was "Immaculate Mary," and our closing one was " Hail Holy Queen," which just happen to be two of my most cherished Catholic hymns. 

As is my custom, I sat on the Mary side of the church, which seemed more fitting than usual today. After the Mass began, I glanced at the wall next to me and noticed I was even sitting next to the Fourth Station of the Cross, in which Jesus meets Mary on the way to his crucifixion. 

I always thought of the Fourth Station as an achingly poignant moment between mother and son, a tearful goodbye and the culmination of the sorrows that Mary was foretold she would bear. Her grief is indicative of the pains we all suffer as we traverse this valley of tears called life. And the church gives us Mary as someone we can commiserate with, a person whose shoulder we can cry on, a tender-hearted mother who shares in our suffering, comforts us with divine love, and carries our prayers and petitions heavenward because of her love for us.  

(Now you can see why, even though I'm not a religious literalist and I have my own personal theological views, I'll always be a Marian Catholic at heart.)

Today's Gospel reading came from Luke, when Christ proclaims that he came not to bring peace but division, and that he wishes the world were already ablaze with his word. Now, I take that passage to mean that his word will inflame strong passions that will divide people, but that those who follow him will be illuminated with the love of God. Fr. Jerome Montez today decided to run with a more forceful interpretation. It's funny that I've expected fire and brimstone at a couple of the evangelical churches I've visited so far in the Valley, and then I end up actually getting it from a Catholic priest. 

The fire in the scripture, Fr. Jerome said, is the fire of God's divine justice, a justice that won't sleep in the face of those who don't keep his commandments. "God does not play around," he said, and only a culture that does the will of God will find peace. If we fail to do God's will, our nation will fall, just as so many nations and empires that were turned over to their own immorality eventually rotted from within. It's not enough to join hands, sing "Kumbaya," and be all happy-clappy: We have to confront our loved ones, set an example for our kids, and be a Christ-like witness against our "godless" culture. If we "give in" to the "lifestyle" of the godless, we condone their sins and will be held accountable for doing so on Judgment Day. 

He went on to decry the "crap" and "junk" the culture feeds us, condemning abortion, same-sex marriage, and the "LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ" movement. "Don't give up your faith for this culture," he warned. Doing so will only lead to "eternal damnation."

Well, do with all that what you will. I've written before about my personal distaste for Fr. Jerome's preaching style. Technically, he didn't say anything theologically wrong, but there is something to be said for love of neighbor and tactful delivery. I've never gotten over when he said COVID was a punishment from God, much in the same way that high-level evangelical preachers in the past have said that AIDS and natural disasters were acts of divine retribution. He and I got off on the wrong foot, and today's homily told me that my objection to his style wasn't an isolated incident.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that the man works hard, tending to a total of five Catholic parishes in the area, and that parishioners seem to take a shine to him. Maybe he's a likeable guy when he's away from the altar. I don't know. But either way, this points to a stark difference between Catholic and Protestant culture: If you're a Protestant, you might shop around till you find a pastor whose preaching style you like and base your churchgoing decision on that alone, but in the Catholic church, you go because you're Catholic, not because you like or dislike the priest. He's only there to serve up the sacrifice of the Mass, not to win any popularity contests. (Not that you should just sit there and take anything a particular priest might happen to dish out, though. I left in the middle of a Mass once after a priest publicly embarrassed my daughter; we never went back to that church.)

I decided to receive communion today, after debating whether I wanted to following the bad taste the homily left in my mouth. I figured it's my birthright as a Catholic. 

Afterward, I went over to say hello to Mary, standing next to her rack of votive candles, and with St. Rita of Cascia, the woman after whom this particular church is named, looking over her. 

That was the prettiest view in the whole church, and it filled me with far more peace than the Mass itself did. 

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