Saturday, 8 September 2012

Catholics in a water park

This is not the sequel to Snakes on a Plane, but if you read various “Catholic” blogs, you could think that holding a youth day in a water park (and having mass during its course) was to Catholicism what Snakes on a Plane is to cinema. Before proceeding to the outburst in these blogs, let’s just take a quick look at the event’s announcement by the Diocese of Honolulu, which, apart from organizational details about the event that took place a week ago, includes the following quote from Pope Benedict XVI:
“Joy is at the heart of the Christian experience. [W]e experience immense joy, the joy of communion, the joy of being Christian, the joy of faith [… and w]e can see the great attraction that joy exercises. In a world of sorrow and anxiety, joy is an important witness to the beauty and reliability of the Christian faith.”
The theme of the year is then stated as “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) – i.e., the same theme as that of this year’s World Youth Day - and a key part of the program is a mass presided over by Larry Silva, the Bishop of Honolulu. And it is precisely this that so incensed my (at least by name) fellow Catholics.

I don't want to pollute your mind too much, so let me just pick out a couple of choice cuts from among the dissenting blogs:
“Does it strike anyone else that “joy” is being confused with “frivolity” or “fun” in this case? Second, how exactly does spending a fun day at the water park “better equip” the youth for their “witness to Jesus”? And third, are the youth really going to be reflecting on the presence of God in their daily lives at this event? I have nothing against the kids (or the adults, for that matter) enjoying a day of fun at a water park, but let’s just call it what it is and not pretend it’s something else. And let’s not mix the sacred with the profane.” (Philothea on Phire)

“First, it could be argued that the location planned for Mass is a demeaning venue and contrary to the dignity due to the Blessed Sacrament. The focus of the surrounding environment of a water park screams personal fun and self-gratification rather than personal sacrifice and the selfless sacrifice of our Lord and Savior made present at the holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the real presence of His body and blood.” (Unam Sanctam Catholicam)

“I'm not sure I've ever noticed people doing much reflection at a water park. I have no idea how wading pools, slides, etc. contribute to a renewal of faith.” (Popin' aint easy)

I'll spare you all the other nonsense, including copious references to Canon Law and to the General Instructions of the Roman Missal (i.e., the mass manual), as the above should be plenty to last anyone for a good while. Fundamentally they boil down to an attempt to justify the underlying, grave misunderstanding shared by all of the three blogs mentioned above. Namely, that one’s Christian faith applies to some aspects of life - “the sacred” (self-sacrifice, reflection, selflessness, “witnessing to Jesus”) but not to others - “the profane” (fun, leisure, “enjoying a day at a water park,” “wading pools, slides, etc.”). In other words, we can be good Christians in church and when doing “spiritual” things, but everyday life is another, separate matter.

Such schizophrenic compartmentalization of life is, in fact one of the worst mistakes that the follower of any religion can make and that will ultimately either lead to psychological damage or to a very hollow, superficial religiosity that so many now rightly reject. What is the point of going to church if that is a self-contained, separate activity, unrelated to the real challenges and joys of life? It certainly wouldn't be for the music …

Just to make it crystal clear that such dualism is not Christian, bear with me during this paragraph. Jesus himself says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12), not “I'll turn the lights on while you are at church, but you are on your own in the water park.” In fact, the whole underlying idea that there is a separation between God and non-God and the heresies that follow from it - starting with Docetism (that Jesus was just a spirit and therefore separate from the material world) and then spreading through various forms of Gnosticism (that the world was created by an imperfect/evil being and that there is a struggle between it and God) – were among the chief issues fought by the Church, starting with St. Irenaeus (my namesake) in the second century AD. St. Augustine puts it very well, as follows: “How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you” (Confessions 10:20) and St. John, in his first letter, then goes to the root: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16) Jesus asks us to follow him body and soul, weekdays and weekends, in secular contexts and religious ones and both when working and resting.

Finally, just in case you were wondering what sacrilegious frivolities and self-gratification I am trying to cover up with this post, here are two photos from last Sunday’s youth day at the Honolulu water park (taken from their Facebook page):


Since the blogs I am arguing against here have all asked their readers to write to the Diocese of Honolulu to voice disagreement with their Youth Day, I would like to ask you to join me in writing to the Diocese of Honolulu ( and/or to their Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry ( to share with them your appreciation for their good work, if you are that way inclined.

UPDATE: A reader has just shared with me the following email, received in response to their message of support sent to the Diocese of Honolulu:
Thank you very much for your note of support, which my staff and I appreciate very much. I wish our critics could have seen how reverent the young people were at the Mass, especially when they spontaneously knelt in the grass for the Eucharistic Prayer.

God bless you!

+ Larry Silva
Most Reverend Clarence (Larry) Silva
Bishop of Honolulu

Just FYI, here is the message I sent: “Dearest representatives of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Honolulu, since I have come across several blogs asking their readers to voice their disagreement with your Diocesan Youth Day held at a water park in Kapolei, Oahu on 1 September 2012, I would just like to express my gratitude to you for bringing Jesus to your youth and assure you of my support and prayers.”