Rummage sales hold a particular fascination for me. Many of the items for sale are not quite broken but, instead, unwanted—a dated picture frame, a comforter that no longer matches the bedroom paint, that “art” Grandma had over her sofa.
Here in Michigan, autumn is rummage sale season, or, as I prefer to think of it, “Treasure Hunt Season.” Tucked in the cracks of people’s cast-off things, treasures can be found. They are often quite personal—bits of family history most precious (one would think) to those who have inherited them.
I’m always a bit amazed to find these treasures. Grandpa’s rosary is a family heirloom; and yet so many rosaries are donated to the local parish with the belief that they are of more value to the people who care about such things.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Our parish has a large rummage sale, and since I work at the parish, I take time to treasure hunt before the sale opens to the public. In particular, I am fond of prayer books and missals. For Catholics of my grandparents’ generation, these were of the same precious nature as many regard their smartphones today. The tattered edges and stained pages speak of travel, while the binding strains from tucked away scraps of sacramentals and prayer cards. People donate these books without removing the personal items tucked inside, and it is in these small scraps of paper that one can find the echoes of a Catholic life not passed on to my generation.
At our parish’s most recent rummage sale, I found a small, blue Pieta prayer book in a box of dime-store novels. As expected, prayer cards were tucked in the pages. Unexpectedly, this book also contained a short letter. The neat handwriting reminded me of my grandmother’s; the writing itself was a relic from days when schools still concerned themselves with teaching penmanship.
Written in 1983, the letter was an offer of prayer. The sender (let’s call her Doris) had heard that the recipient (I will call her Rose) had been sick and was undergoing treatment. Doris wanted Rose to know of her prayers for recovery, and she encouraged Rose to pray to Fr. Solanus for his intercession. The now-Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey is well-known here in the Detroit area.
The letter meant enough to Rose to tuck it away in her tiny prayer book. It’s easy to imagine her frail hands turning the pages, offering devotions to the Blessed Mother, and rereading the letter with the knowledge that she did not suffer alone. Rose had recourse to the saints in her suffering.
Where was this Catholicism when I was growing up in the 1980s? Where is it today?
I had a small window into what the Church was like for my parents and grandparents. The devotions, days of obligation, and fasting that my mother grew up with provided a foundation that weathered the catechetical and liturgical changes. My mother still prays the Rosary for consolation even though she has not been in communion with the Church for decades.
My generation, however, has not been so lucky. The Church my mother grew up in was not the Church that was passed on to me. The watered-down catechism and hollowed-out Mass given to us has shown its fruits in a record number of fallen-away Catholics spending more time waiting in line at Starbucks than in prayer. The watered-down catechism and hollowed-out Mass given to us has shown its fruits in a record number of fallen-away Catholics spending more time waiting in line at Starbucks than in prayer. Tweet This
Of course, it is difficult to turn to prayer when one is not shown how to pray. My grandmother knew how to pray. She understood what it meant to believe in a communion of saints because the Catholicism of old is full of life-sustaining devotions. The new Catholicism is spiritually bankrupt, offering felt banners and overly-emotional music in place of fasting, confession, and prayer.
When Doris wrote the letter that Rose tucked away, she was doing more than sending a text with a praying hands emoji or a hastily-typed “thoughts and prayers” comment on a Facebook post. Doris was a lifeline for Rose to all the consolations found in the intercession of saints which the average Catholic used to resort to.
The abdication of that kind of Catholic culture has been the peril of so many souls.
A revival of the Church will come in the restoration of Catholic culture. We don’t need modern trappings with a Catholic veneer. We need Marian processions, Feast Day celebrations, and increased devotion to praying the Rosary. We need Mass to be reverent. We need robust catechization for our young people—and, God willing, they will catechize their parents.
The future of the Church is found in the past. It is ignorant hubris that sustains the idea that the old way of doing things is unfit for modern man. The evidence to the contrary can be found in thriving Institute of Christ the King parishes and Chesterton Academies.
For the sake of our children, we need to admit that the past holds more answers than modernity. May God grant us the courage to do so.
Our Lady of Victory, pray for us.