Mary Adamski

View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship

By Mary Adamski

Saturday, November 3, 2001

Mass at UH puts
humility over pride

The parable from Luke's Gospel was a familiar story where the prideful Pharisee's version of prayer was a bragging list of his virtues: "I thank you God that I am not like this tax collector." Meanwhile, the guy in that unsavory career humbly hung back with bowed head asking God's forgiveness for sins, our clear role model. Who couldn't get the message "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and who humbles himself will be exalted."

But then, true to form at Newman Center/Holy Spirit Parish, the Rev. Jim Rude peeled back the layers.

There's the historical perspective; such public prayer was a politically correct thing to do among Jews and indeed can be seen in practice at the Weeping Wall in Jerusalem today.

We look at how drastically Jesus turned things upside down in his time, praising a nasty tax collector. There's a gentle nudge about false humility. We're led to reflect on our own style of prayer, about using our own words to talk to God, knowing him as a friend.

It's a meditative homily, and that adjective describes the entire late morning Mass in the Catholic parish at the edge of the University of Hawaii campus. The quietness of the service is a far cry from the busy-ness of Mass in many other parishes.

The experience can come as a surprise to a visitor who, responding to ingrained Catholic rhythm of stand-kneel-sit, finds she's the only one who's leapt to her feet when it's prayers-for-the-faithful time or tried to kneel at the consecration.

No kneelers, not the furniture and not the act itself. That's not unique, a feature of many modern churches, as is the minimalized churchiness of furnishing in general -- crucifix and stained glass windows are impressionistic art rather than precise realistic images.

Floral arrangements on a narrow ledge are downright Zen-like.

The focus of any Catholic Mass is the Eucharist, reliving the Last Supper and receiving the consecrated bread and wine. This relatively small worship space is perfect for the purpose, bringing everyone close to the altar. There's no way-back place for those compulsives who mutter through a rosary while giving distracted attention to the main act.

The insightful, intellectual homily -- in a denomination not known for its preachers -- is one of the reasons some people are drawn to Holy Spirit Parish.

"I don't think you should have to leave your intellect at the door," said one refugee from the church in his neighborhood. "It's because they're Jesuits, you know."

Another friend echoed, "Oh they're Jesuits" in ticking off nontraditional aspects that ensured she wouldn't go back. There's a very relaxed dress code, shorts not just worn by the college kids. The communion bread is dense, homemade stuff way different from the standard thin wafers. And they forgo some prayers usually recited en masse.

I did agree with her that the most in the congregation seem lethargic spectators when it comes to prayer responses. Speak "amen" aloud and I'm a soloist! I was also politically incorrect -- in a common prayer reference to "His" my voice was drowned out by "God's," alternative language considered sensitive to feminist perception.

"Of all the parishes in Hawaii, if you're in Holy Spirit it's a choice you've made," said Catholic diocese spokesman Patrick Downes.

Unlike a typical parish where a mixed bag of people is thrown together because they live in the same area, people drive from across the island to attend Holy Spirit, virtually all of them college graduates or university students.

Started as a club for Catholic students, the current Newman Center was built in 1982 and a former bishop expanded it to a full parish in 1986.

"We are dealing with the community we serve," said the Rev. Randy Roche, pastor. "This doesn't suit the majority of Catholics, so thank goodness there are alternatives."

As for the Society of Jesus religious order which has staffed Newman Center since 1972, and their perceived "liberal" character, that's a subject bigger than this column.

What's unique about Jesuits, said Roche, "is our spirituality ... how you live with God in all the things being done in the world." Unlike other religious orders founded as closed, monastic institutions, "What got (founder) Ignatius going was his spirit for lay people."


Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
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