Friday, July 10, 2009

"Driven to Distraction": Faith and Family Live

Today the lead feature article at "Faith and Family Online" is entitled "Driven to Distraction" by Joseph Pronechen. A perennial favorite: how to respond to distractions at Mass.

I always get a little nervous when people toss around the word “reverent” in describing the behavior of other people, which can be such a subjective standard. I get REALLY nervous when people (like my parents used to) use this kind of thing to justify breaking fellowship with people who don’t quite meet up to their own standards. We need each other, to grow together in grace and holiness. Even those who irk us most. I’ve had to remind myself of that, and fight the impulse to “parish hunt” each time someone on staff does something that rubs me the wrong way. God put these people in my life for a reason ... it’s up to me to find that reason, and learn what I can, and trust Him for the rest.

Reverence is primarily an interior disposition (which is of course reflected in outward behavior—but a little differently in every person). The Therese of Lisieux quote is most thelpful—it keeps the focus where it should be: ourselves, and our own responses (the only things we really CAN control). At Mass and elsewhere, God gives us ample opportunities to grow in patience.

It is true Jesus became angry at the crass commercialism he found going on in the Temple. However, Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for the Pharisees—people who heaped rules and regulations on others out of a legalistic need to control, and elevated the appearance of piety over true devotion (see Luke 11:37-52).

Because we are obligated to attend Mass each week, as Catholics, there are going to be times when (especially our kids) are more outwardly “reverent” than others. They don’t always participate as perfectly as we’d like them to ... but we trust that along the way they will grow in their understanding of what is going on around them, and remember these encounters with Jesus as something positive and joy-filled. I’m sure that when Jesus invited the children to come to Him, He didn’t welcome only the most well-behaved!

One of the most differences I most appreciate between the Catholic faith and the various Christian communities to which I’ve belonged over the years is that the focus of faith is not strictly personal (e.g. “Jesus and me”) to the exclusion of corporal (the “Body of Christ.”) You need both. We absolutely experience this in a profound way through the sacraments, and the corporate prayer of the Church.

In a real sense, we are family—good or bad, quiet or noisy, solemn and focused or squirmy and distracting. Catechesis is needed—and pastors should do their best to lead their “families” toward greater devotion. But so is tolerance. Better the “children” be there, distracting us, than not to come at all. And since correction works better in the context of an existing relationship, the sour-pussed saint is likely not to win many listeners.

The next time you see me and my kids whispering in Mass (which they invariably do), tell yourself they are asking a question about what is going on, and I’ve chosen to use the teachable moment because that is when their minds are open and inquisitive. And if my daughter’s outfit seems a little “colorful” (perhaps even a bit distracting), know that this was her idea of “getting dressed up for God”—and that, as long as she’s covered, I’ve decided to make it a parenting non-issue.

As for the whispering teenagers ... I’m happy they want to be part of the community, instead of hiding out in the bathrooms (as I’ve seen others do!) Finally, if people didn’t run over each other before the last words of the final hymn in their eagerness to “beat the traffic” out of the parking lot, perhaps people would not be tempted to “snag” their friends on the way out the door ... and adjourn to the parish hall!

To those who want to spend a few quiet moments with Jesus ... God bless you. Just remember, he’s there all week. God loves families—he created them, and knows just how noisy they can be! “SUFFER the little children ... forbid them not.”


Kate Wicker said...

Heidi, I'm 100 percent in agreement with you and am so thankful you shared your insight (beautifully and truthfully written as always) with the F&F LIVE! community and beyond.

As I've written before, there is NO room for intolerance at the table of the Lord.

God bless you!

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

Well done!! And I will try to keep it in mind today, because I do get frustrated at what I see and hear. As a musician (facing the assembly) I see and hear a lot. But I also have kids who will lean over and whisper a question (why do we do that? What's Father doing? What does it mean when we... and hey, I never knew that...)

I just don't want people to think "well, at least we're here" and not even BOTHER trying to be reverent, because we should all just be glad they showed up.

And I would love it if there were a way to socialize with our church friends (church family, actually!) That's important! That's how we grow community. And the buildings don't have a space where that can be encouraged.