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Those of us who are Catholics have had a rough few years. Well, make that a rough few decades. Horrific abuse scandals. Some weak, sometimes feckless, bishops. Wacky theologians. Boring homilies. Dreadful music. Widespread dissent, often rooted in appalling ignorance. I could go on. We envy our Evangelical friends for the vibrancy of faith in their communities. (Causing our Evangelical friends to wonder whether we’ve been hitting the communion wine too hard.) We envy our friends in the historically black churches for their great preaching and singing. We envy our LDS friends for having strong and inspiring leaders. We envy our Eastern Orthodox friends for having a beautiful liturgy. We envy our Orthodox Jewish friends for understanding the value of tradition, instead of throwing it overboard in pursuit of “relevance.” 

We feel sorry for ourselves.

But sometimes, one notices the little things that make it great to be Catholic. Like diversity. Diversity? I know what you’re thinking: “My goodness, Robby really has been hitting the sauce. He’s not usually the sort who goes for this p. c. diversity business.”

But, no, I mean it. Diversity. I was sitting at mass today, listening to the homily (which actually wasn’t all that boring, truth be told) and looking around at my fellow worshippers. I mean to tell you, it was glorious diversity. The Catholic Church really is “here comes everybody.” There were people I know who are Irish, Polish, Italian, Mexican, Filipino, Guatemalan, but also African, Indian (the kind from India), Korean, Vietnamese, Colombian, Russian (why they don’t go to the Orthodox Church, I’m not sure; but there they were), Lebanese, Japanese, Jamaican, Chilean, Ecuadorean—all in the same local parish

And that’s only the beginning.

There were the folks from the Western section of Princeton who work in financial services in NYC and have a net worth in the tens or even hundreds of millions. And there was the guy who owns the local bakery. And the woman who has one of the florist shops and another who has (or works in, I’m not quite sure) one of the few remaining travel agencies. There was the little old man with the amazingly bad toupee. (He’d be better off with some black magic marker.) There were the laborers who work with the local landscapers and builders. They and their families were sitting there alongside the rich people from the Western section and the University professors. One of the professors (who, as it happens, is one of the world’s leading scientists) was kneeling next to the wife of my tailor—she’s an immigrant woman whose simple southern Italian spirituality is of the sort that gets Catholics labeled Mary worshippers by our Protestant friends. Then there was the guy—late 60s or 70s in age, with the classic looks of the 1940s male movie star, right down to the pencil thin moustache—who kneels through the whole mass counting his beads and saying the rosary. He does it every Sunday.

We have the Princeton University undergrads and graduate students headed for big things, and the people with Down’s Syndrome and other handicaps. We have the crying infants and squirming toddlers (not to mention the adolescents who, I’m sure, are giving their parents fits) and the people (mostly women, but a few men) who are certainly in their nineties. My sense is that the congregation as a whole is made up of fairly orthodox Catholics, which I doubt is always the case in university towns. When my former student, Fr. Mike McClane, preaches, only one or two people usually get up and walk out. Given that he often says things that cause massive heartburn to Catholics who strongly dissent from some of the Church’s moral teachings, that’s pretty surprising for a parish in a town like Princeton, but there it is. Anyway, if we’re missing ideological (or whatever you want to call it) diversity we sure have lots of all the other kinds, including, I’m sure, plenty of sinners like me, and even, I would be willing to bet, a few saints.
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