Let me tell you about a little church in a poor part of town that could use a miracle.
Visiting Dallas years ago, my wife and I attended Sunday Mass at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church in Oak Cliff. In the heart of a hardscrabble neighborhood, we found a parish that is one of the most wondrous, hope-filled and altogether extraordinary churches we've ever seen.
That morning's Mass was the modern Catholic liturgy, in Latin â€“ the Mass said daily by the pope. With the lights dimmed, we saw Father Paul Weinberger behind a curtain of incense pronounce those ancient words: Hoc est enim corpus meum â€“ This is my Body â€“ then hold the Host high for what seemed like an eternity. It was an electrifying moment for my wife and me, accustomed to the dreary ceremonies of contemporary American Catholicism.
My convert wife, weeping, told me, "This is what I thought the church was. This is why I became Catholic." Later, she asked a parishioner, "Do you realize what you have here?" The lady beamed, "We know how blessed we are!"
Now, it's all about to be over. Bishop Charles Grahmann has ordered Father Weinberger transferred after Jan. 6. No reason has been given, and nobody expects the Latin Mass, or many of the other devotions Father Weinberger brought to this parish, to continue.
When asked by the media to explain, diocesan spokesman Bronson Havard said moving a priest is an ordinary affair and within the rights of a bishop. He's correct. Technically, the bishop is acting within his authority. Still, I don't understand why this priest is being moved now, with two years left on his term, and a spotless record.
The Blessed Sacrament faithful think they know why. Father Weinberger is being punished, they say, because he is a tradition-minded Catholic priest, one who venerates Rome's liturgical heritage, preaches the orthodox Catholic faith and does unheard-of things like offering 40 hours of confessions during Holy Week. Even more scandalous, preaching that old-time religion at Blessed Sacrament has been a success.
A decade ago, Father Weinberger, then 34, arrived in the dying parish with the expectation that he would shut it down. But a funny thing happened: He paid off its million-dollar debt, beautified the shabby place by planting roses and raising statues, and revived a rich life of prayer and teaching among the working-class immigrant congregation. Catholic Anglos from the Dallas area began flocking to the church.
Even non-Catholics noticed. In an (as yet) unpublished letter to the diocesan newspaper, David Spence, an Oak Cliff architectural restorer, explained that he first met Father Weinberger after noticing how much lovelier the church was becoming. In talking to Mexican immigrants from the neighborhood, he discovered that the physical transformation was coming from the people being spiritually renewed. Mr. Spence called Father Weinberger "the best thing that has happened to Blessed Sacrament ... and the spiritual life of our neighborhood in decades."
That's no surprise. Father Weinberger considers it his mission to "spoil the poor." As he told religion writer Terry Mattingly, "Beauty is terribly important, especially for people who have so little beauty in their lives. People need something that lifts them up, that lets them glimpse something higher. ... I want their church to be like a garden in this workaday world."
And now, Bishop Grahmann is poised to take from these people, who are so needy, a gardener whose loving care has borne so much good fruit in barren soil.
The people of Blessed Sacrament may be living in the barrio, but from this humble parish, they can see heaven. Pray that heaven sees them in their hour of need.
It should be very interesting to see the diocesan reaction to this one...