The pastor of the Cathedral, Fr. Manion, had lived a simple and consistent life. He had never been very far from the Eucharist. As a boy he had grown up in a parish in Butte, Montana, in the idyllic world of the 1950s. The daily path from morning prayer to mass to school and work was the one he had always followed. In the early 1960s when the powerful grace of Vatican II changed the landscape, he was in grade school and high school. Montana was one of the first places to embrace Vatican II because of gifted and holy bishop and because of the spiritual temperament of the people. Young Danny Manion had loved seeing the Church become renewed, and he especially loved how mass had become more clearly the celebration of the Eucharist.
His deep devotion to the Eucharist had allowed him to walk with relative peace through the tumult of the late 60′s and early 70′s as he completed his college at Carroll and entered the seminary. It allowed him to find his way through what he called the “shouting years” of his early ministry as a priest. It seemed to him that someone was always shouting in parish life. He had the ability to sort out the truth from the many loud points of views that filled parish discussions and diocesan meetings. His main objection came when the discussion turned to shouting. At those moments he encouraged everyone to take time in the presence of the Eucharist and listen for the quiet voices that could only be heard in the sacramental space. Over time the shouters either learned to be gentle and articulate or they wandered off shouting from a distance outside of the center of parish life.
His peaceful demeanor was only disturbed when he ran into someone who suggested that the teaching of the Church on the sacrament of the Eucharist could change. He remembered being shocked and angered when he first heard one of his friend, who had been ordained with him, state that the Church might need to become more contemporary by loosening up on the doctrine of the real presence. He responded by saying at that point the Church would cease being the Church. His friend suggested his collar has too much starch in it and had walked away. Although he had deep affection for the man, he knew that on the subject of the real presence and the central place of the Eucharist in the Church he would always be dogmatic.
By the time he reached his 40′s he discovered he was an influential man. His Irish genes and his Butte blood had made him a smart and savvy judge of people. His devotion to the Eucharist made him respected within the circle of the Church hierarchy, and his savvy made him a valuable advisor and leader. Because of this he had ended up holding many important positions and had been brought by the bishop to the Cathedral, so that the bishop could have him close at hand. So he often made the short walk across the street and down Ewing, but on this day he knew he had been summoned to come immediately to the chancery by a troubled superior. The presence of several vans and vehicles with news logos on their side suggested what was disturbing the bishop.
Fr. Manion knew it hadn’t been easy for the Bishop since his argument with the young parishioner. In a little over a week the national coverage had become international coverage. Letterman, Leno, and Conan O’Brien had all referenced it in their sketches. The item on Saturday Night live showing the bishop pointing at the young girl holding her soccer ball, and Tina Fey quoting the bishop as saying, “Don’t come back without your babushka when you’ve given up your evil sports,” had been especially disturbing.
When he got to the bishop’s office, the bishop had piles of faxes and letters surrounding him. He was agitated and looked like he hadn’t slept. He tersely told Fr. Manion to sit down. He got to the point quickly.
“You have to do something with that girl. You have to talk to her parents. I’ve tried but they have no respect for me. This is unacceptable.”
The bishop wanted to say it was sinful, as he told people who supported him in the Diocese, but he knew that Fr. Manion knew better than that.
“Also have you noticed, she doesn’t genuflect anymore. What is she up to? Everyone watches her and I think other people are genuflecting less too. Do something to stop this.”
Then the phone rang and the bishop spoke to the secretary and said, “No, I’d better take this call.” He turned to Fr. Manion, “You’d better go. It’s from Washington, the Nuncio.” He looked nervous. “It would be good if you stopped this, for you and for the Church. This is about discipline.”
Fr. Manion had never let the promises or the subtle suggestion of disfavor by church officials disturb him. His ministry was to bring the Eucharistic life to the faithful and no one would ever prevent him from doing that. So he walked back to the parish office undisturbed by the pressure of the bishop’s politics, but he was disturbed, however, by the word discipline. It had been echoing in his prayer life. He heard himself using it often. The term that came back to him in thought and speech was “the grace of discipline” and he wasn’t quite sure what it meant. Discipline had always meant to him the discipline of the Church to hold the line around the sacraments, protecting them through the discipline demanded by the Council of Trent that had protected sacramental life against many conflicts. Discipline had meant to him personally finding the quiet voices in parish life. He often heard the bishop use the word discipline lately, and he knew what the bishop meant by the word, “Accept without question my authority.” All of these meanings seemed jumbled when he prayed and he hadn’t yet heard the quiet voice of his prayer life bringing insight to him on this matter.
He was also concerned about the genuflection issue. It threatened to be a problem in parish life. In the past couple of years, more conservative parishioners had started to genuflect before receiving communion. Not only did this cause some traffic issues in the aisles, especially for elderly parishioners, but it also made many people angry. The less conservative parishioners seemed to feel that the genuflectors were creating a new ritual that suggested that genuflection revealed true devotion. Fr. Manion knew that this was a new problem with a potential to become a battle, and he too had noticed that Catie Jo wasn’t genuflecting.
The next day, Friday, at mass, more young people were present because it was school release day. Catie Jo and her brothers were together. Whenever he watched her praying he knew that a deep spirituality was working in her. He had heard stories about her prayer life, but he had never discussed it with her. The bishop sometime referred with scorn to “her friends,” but he wasn’t sure what that meant. His head was so filled with these thoughts, he barely thought about the words he used in his homily on Paul’s challenge to Peter to quit acting one way with the Jews and one way with the Gentiles. After mass, he brought the Eucharist to the side chapel for Exposition. After he took off his vestments, he went back to the side chapel to pray.
Catie Jo was sitting by herself and he watched her stand. Something remarkable happened. She held her eyes down and automatically genuflected on both knees. She put her face in her hands and her shoulders shook, suggesting weeping. Then she looked up and in that moment, Fr. Manion saw what she saw: Jesus standing before her, motioning for her to stand up. She held out her hands in response to the feeling that Jesus wanted to help her up. She stood up as if she were being lifted, first standing on her feet looking up into Jesus’ eyes, and then for a brief a moment, she seemed to be face to face with Jesus looking eye to eye. As she smiled, Fr. Manion thought for a moment he saw with both feet off the ground. He blinked and then he saw that Catie Jo was coming toward him.
She whispered standing next to him, “Sorry, Father, to disturb you, but I had to say you were right today. Peter needed to love everyone the same way. He needed to be the same friend to everybody.”
In that moment, Fr. Manion heard one of his quiet voices. “Real discipline means not only recognizing the truth but embracing it.” He found himself giving Catie Jo a hug before she ran off to catch up with some of her friends.