Sunday, November 29, 2009

Confrontation at Mass

by Steve Ray on November 29, 2009

I usually mind my own business and worship God at Mass, but there are times I step out of my comfort zone. Once was when the priest said no miracle took place at the multiplication of loaves and fish. Today if was for other reasons. My wife Janet said I was antsy and nervous at Mass today — and I agreed I was.

They walked in and sat down a few pews away from us. To the right a loneyoung boy about 16 years old and to the left a tall white American male with his short oriental wife and two-year-old son. Mass began and the small boy began to fidget while the mother dutifully attended to him, holding him on her hip and trying to keep him quiet. The father was in another world and paid no attention to his struggling wife and child. He was oblivious.

I usually try to pay attention to the liturgy. But I could not but feel empathy for the lonely young man and the struggling mother. The young man of about 16 was sitting by himself and looking around for a friend or support. He was obviously lonely. I have to admit I was distracted out of compassion for these two struggling people.

As the Mass progressed I was progressively agitated as I saw the poor mother struggling with her 2-year old while the tall husband completely ignored her. She looked up at him several times with desperation in her eyes but he refused to look at her or show any support. Yes, as a father of four and grandfather of eight, I was feeling a bit sympathetic for the poor mother thinking of my own daughters with their children.

I also kept wanting to reach out to the lonely young man looking around for someone to give him a bit of affirmation. I wanted to take the poor young wife under my wing and encourage her.

Finally the little wife hoisted the little boy on her hip and pushed past her oblivious and stupid husband and went to the back of the church where she remained — ignored — for the rest of the Mass. He never acknowledged her or even looked back once. I know I should have been paying attention to the Mass and not involved in the others problems — or, should I have? I am not sure.

congregation_easter016The young man offered to usher and quickly stepped up to volunteer with the offering plate. I watched the smile on his face as he was proving to be of some value. People hustled and bustled around him without paying much attention. He looked around for some sign of approval.

When he was done I gestured to him with my finger and called — “Come here!” He was shocked but stepped over to me with a quizzical look on his face. I reached out my hand and said, “You did a great job, thanks for serving Our Lord!” His face lit up like a candle!

Then came the Sign of Peace. The tall white man had never once looked back at his oriental wife still struggling with their son. I had been aggitated with this the whole time. Was I meddling, too curious, or distracted, too intrusive?

Maybe, but when the Sign of Peace came I walked over to the young man first and again said “Thanks for serving us and peace be with you.” I then walked two rows over and shook the tall father’s hand and said, “Peace be with you — you need to be more attentive to your wife and child.” I then walked back to my seat.

In a matter of seconds the tall man walked over an stood by my side and said indignantly, “I am a child psychologist!” We were in Ann Arbor and he probably graduated with a PhD from the University of Michigan. I turned and said, “You may be a psychologist but I am observant! You have completely ignored your wife and child.”

He responded, “This is the Mass!” I said, “I realize that, but your poor wife and child have been in the back and you have ignored them completely. I am a father of four and a grandfather of eight and I have learned a few things over the years. You need to pay more attention to your wife and child or you will some day lose them.”

He was stunned and went back and sat down. His wife was still sitting at the back door struggling with the boy and unable to attend communion. I looked back at her and smiled to encourage her as I had done several times during the Mass.

A child psychologist? I wish he had been a construction worker or bus driver — his conduct would have been more understandable. But a child psychologist?! How can such educated people be so stupid and selfish.

OK, I probably should just mind my own business — not be so judgmental, but I can’t! I am a dad and a husband, a grandfather and a member of the human race and member of the Body of Christ. How can I turn a blind eye? How can I not encourage the young man desperate for attention and the young wife yearning for basic respect and attention from her husband.

The other day I was on a plane. A very heavy woman boarded the plane with a heavy suitcase and told the flight attendant “I will need some help getting my suitcase up in the storage bin.” I jumped up and said, “I will help you,” and I followed her to her seat. After hoisting her heavy suitcase into its place I smiled and said, “I am a Catholic and I love helping people.”

She had a surprised look on her face and said “Thanks.” You don’t have to be a convert to do and say such things.

It is time we began acting like Catholics. It is time we stop being so shy, so politically correct, so careful, so timid. It is time we confront and speak out. Be proud to be Catholic. Challenge our brothers and sisters! Challenge the world! Encourage the weak, chastise the selfish, poke the complacent, share the faith!

Sorry, but I can’t be quiet. Maybe I just have a big mouth.

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