I grew up with church bells though among them was not the bell of my home parish, some miles out into the country. Yet there the bell sounded to call the faithful from farm and home to worship and tolled itself again during the Words of Institution and the Our Father (seven times). Neither were there Catholic Bells as in the poem but Swedish Lutheran bells and a Methodist bell thrown in as well.
My first parish did not have a bell or a tower but a family gave an electronic carillon in memory of a loved one and it served as a substitute. My current parish also did not have a bell but now we have two. One grand cast iron bell that weighs perhaps a half a ton and a smaller school bell size one. But were given by faithful folks in the parish and members of the parish saw to it that a low tower was raised and the bells now sound forth to call us again to worship and prayer.
The bells speak even to those whose ears are otherwise closed to our witness. They remind neighborhoods and communities of the presence of the Church, of the place where the Gospel is preached, of the Holy Sacraments that deliver to us Christ and His gifts, and of the faithful gathered in response to God's beckoning. It is a small witness but one similar to the witness made when neighbors look out their windows or walk out to get their Sunday paper and see the people of God in their cars, dressed for worship and headed to the Church. It may not be much but it is not as small as we might think, this witness that sounds into the ear or fills the eye.
Perhaps it is time to remember how profoundly these things speak in a world committed to silence the explicit witness to Christ and His death and resurrection. I am not at all suggesting that we leave it to that or abandon our words and works. I am only saying that we are left with more than the option of a silent protest before a world intent upon silencing our voice. No silent protest here -- bells that sound and people on their way to the Divine Service. A voice and a visual! God bless them!
Tho' I'm no Catholic I listen hard when the bells in the yellow-brick tower of their new church ring down the leaves ring in the frost upon them and the death of the flowers ring out the grackle toward the south, the sky darkened by them, ring in the new baby of Mr. and Mrs. Krantz which cannot for the fat of its cheeks open well its eyes, ring out the parrot under its hood jealous of the child ring in Sunday morning and old age which adds as it takes away. Let them ring only ring! over the oil painting of a young priest on the church wall advertisng last week's Novena to St. Anthony, ring for the lame young man in black with gaunt cheeks and wearing a Derby hat, who is hurrying to 11 o'clock Mass (the grapes still hanging to the vines along the nearby Concordia Halle like broken teeth in the head of an old man) Let them ring for the eyes and ring for the hands and ring for the children of my friend who no longer hears them ring but with a smile and in a low voice speaks of the decisions of her daughter and the proposals and betrayals of her husband's friends. O bells ring for the ringing! the beginning and the end of th ringing! Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring! Catholic bells-!