Yesterday evening, the girls and I went to the 4:30 Mass as we always do, with no indication that before we left the church, we were going to be experiencing the acid indigestion and tenseness that usually comes with trying to find a parking space at Castleton Square Mall this time of year.
Meelyn and I always sit at the back so that we can be near Aisling, who plays the piano. Any time she's not on call -- during the readings and the homily, for example -- she leaves her seat on the bench and comes to sit with us. Since we sit at the back, we're used to being around all the harried parents who are trying to keep their little ones under control, but we also see our fair share of people who just apparently wander in after suddenly remembering they're Catholics, with no intention whatsoever of participating in the Mass or even a pretense of reverence.
Two weeks ago, we sat behind three twenty-somethings, two of whom were married and one who was a guy friend of theirs. The two young married sat and whispered and giggled their way through Mass, while the guy friend texted from his cell phone as if an hour's loss of contact with the outside world might cause the collapse of everything in life he held dear. And then all three went forward to receive Communion -- because those kind ALWAYS receive Communion, don't they, while the truly decent ones stay in their seats thinking things like, "I told Marcia I'd meet her at noon but then I got held up by traffic and didn't get there until twelve-thirty. That was so thoughtless of me. I'd better not receive Communion until I can confess my sin" -- which just made me want to scream aloud in frustration, and I silently told Jesus that I hoped that decades were being shaved off my Purgatory because I managed to get through that entire hour and fifteen minutes without bashing the texter in the back of the head with my missal.
Yesterday, though, was a banner day, a truly horrible, awful day when the people in front of us, (two parents with their three vile teenage daughters) were so unbelievably rude and irreverent, I finally rose up in high dudgeon and outraged sensibilities and SAID SOMETHING....and then was afterward fervently thanked by several people sitting nearby.
The parents sat together and the girls sat in a row directly to their father's right and they spent the entire Mass fidgeting, slouching, putting their heads on their dad's shoulder (they all got up and left the nave of the church several times, rearranging their seating patterns upon their return), leaning against one another, pushing each other, giggling, playing with their cell phones. They did everything they possibly could have done at church except draw attention by standing up and raising their tops. When the oldest girl fell asleep during the homily, her sisters and her parents all laughed when she started awake by the rest of the congregation saying the Creed.
Naturally, no one bothered to lift up a hymnal. None of them said the Creed or prayed the Our Father. They did participate eagerly in the Sign of Peace, nearly knocking one another down with the effusiveness of their greetings, but ignoring everyone else in the pews around them. They whispered and giggled during the entire Consecration. When we all returned from Communion, I was kneeling there trying to focus on my prayers, but it was hard not to be distracted by the TEXT MESSAGES the oldest girl kept receiving, which made her and her sisters squeal and giggle and push one another, even as they all knelt, even as the rest of the church was wrapped in reverent silence. Except for the people in the pews around all of us, of course, where people before and behind were raising their heads to shoot indignant looks at the three girls and undoubtedly wanting to commit acts of mayhem against Mom and Dad.
I became aware of this feeling I get on rare occasions; a feeling so intense, it makes my lips numb. It only happens when I've been goaded beyond endurance, and the only way I can describe it is to say that somewhere deep inside me resides the Über-Teacher, one of the kind that keeps tissues stuffed in the sleeve of her cardigan, wears her spectacles on the end of her nose (all the better for transmitting that flinty look of terror to the back row of the classroom) and brandishes one of those wooden pointers, a handy tool for demonstrating the steps in long division or whacking a recalcitrant student's heinie with. That teacher rose up inside me as I watched those three young fools babbling and bickering and tee-hee-heeing as their stupid, useless parents sat there, oblivious.
I half stood out of my kneeling position and leaned forward so that I was approximately two inches behind the cluster of their three heads as they all looked at the oldest girl's cell phone. "Do you think the three of you could sit still and be quiet for one small moment? Because you are disturbing everyone around you who is trying to pray after Communion and your behavior is horrible," I breathed in a venomous hiss, injecting as much authoritative astringency as I could into those few words. Their three heads immediately separated and their spines became rigid, none of the three of them daring to give so much as a look to another. I abandoned my prayers entirely and sat in grim silence, JUST WAITING for one of them to look at that cell phone or giggle. Or whisper. Or in any way further violate the atmosphere of respect and devotion that should be taking place in a church after the congregation has received Communion.
I was READY.
As we were leaving the church, Meelyn asked incredulously, "Who WERE those people? I've never seen them before. Uh, THANK GOODNESS."
"I don't know who they were," I said wearily. "But I hope and pray we never see them again."
"Oh, they go here all right," Aisling informed us. "The youngest one, Chelsea, is in my Confirmation class."
Great. JUST GREAT. I mean, I realize that the Church is full of sinners, right? Because that's where we're supposed to be, receiving God's grace through our worship? I am always mindful of the old saw, "Churches are not country clubs for God's elite; they're emergency rooms for His common folk." And I believe that, I truly do. But the point is that we're supposed to be there cooperating with God's grace, not doing everything we can to reject it.
Otherwise, why bother? Why bother going if you think that you and your hellspawn children are too good to sing from a hymnal, pray the prayers or even PRETEND to kneel and pray after Communion? Why not just stay home, so that the people who are truly there to worship God and receive Jesus in holy communion aren't distracted from their prayers by the circus-like atmosphere in your pew? Just.....stay home. Sleep in. Read the Sunday papers, or in this case, take in a Saturday afternoon matinee at the cinema down the road. Don't think you're fooling God or anyone else by your presence there at Mass into thinking that you actually believe.
And if you can't bring yourselves to leave the rest of us in peace, then please AT LEAST don't mock the cornerstone of our faith by going forward to receive Communion. And don't let your dippy little teenage goofball be confirmed, either. Because I'm thinking that from her display last night? She has NO CLUE about the seriousness of the sacrament she's about to receive and you know what? I blame you, Mom and Dad. You two are the authors of the three idiots sitting with you.
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