Just when you thought you’ve seen and heard just about everything when it comes to problems in the pews, another incident comes along and leaves you speechless — a reminder that the inside of our churches at times are just as much mission field as the secular world.
The incident occurred at the Saturday vigil Mass on Divine Mercy weekend. We’re blessed to have a faithful pastor who is very passionate and very concerned about the cultural attacks on Catholicism and Christianity in general.
He is also very loving with his sheep, always encouraging them to spend as much time with the Lord and to take advantage of Eucharistic adoration, Bible studies, men’s groups — any and all activities that will help in strengthening our faith individually and as a parish. As a result, and although Father is well aware that it’s not about winning a popularity contest, he is loved in return by his flock. Well, most of the flock.
Since our pastor is of Polish heritage and spent a great deal of time studying and living in Poland, he is more familiar than most with the Divine Mercy message. That Saturday afternoon, Father shut off most of the lights in the sanctuary and had the congregation focus on the beautiful life-size Divine Mercy image displayed near the altar. It was so moving to look at the image that was illuminated only by candles. His homily focused on the great need for the message in these particularly challenging times.
Apparently what was most challenging and compelling for one parishioner was not the content of Father’s homily but the length. The homily was only about 20-25 minutes long. But it might as well have been two hours. This person obviously had better places to go, more exciting people to meet than Jesus, and more exciting things to do. She was so perturbed that she proceeded to quickly tell our pastor how she felt — not after Mass, not in a letter, a phone call or private email, not even through a post on the parish Facebook page. Instead, she thought it would be appropriate to tell Father during the distribution of Holy Communion. “Father, you talk way too long,” she said right before receiving the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Catholic Faith.
When we heard what had happened, I immediately wondered what Mother Angelica, who died one week earlier on Easter Sunday, would have said to this woman. She might start out with her famous phrase, “Listen, sweetheart,” and then do her best to lovingly but strongly, in her unique Italian-American style, admonish this person and teach her what she apparently missed concerning the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. Mother was a staunch defender of the Faith, especially when it came to the importance of the Mass and Eucharist.
Something else went through my mind. I thought about all the times I might have gotten frustrated over the years over a longer-than-expected Mass. While not too many of us have gotten so frustrated as to blurt something out at such a sacred moment, we’ve no doubt all had our own issues: maybe taking Mass and the sacraments for granted, allowing our minds to wander way too often.
As shocking as this parishioner’s antics were, they also served as a wake-up call. For her, it was all about the actual time she had to spend in church. But for me — and maybe for you as well — it might be time to reaffirm and reawaken our own appreciation for the many gifts in our faith and become more aware of the continuing need for the New Evangelization.
This column first appeared on OSV Newsweekly. To read Teresa’s latest OSV columns click here.