Speaking of confession, here's one: I have a really hard time dealing with the C&E Catholics -- you know, the ones who clog up the pews twice a year on the big holidays, chattering and chewing gum like they're in a football stadium, treating the Nativity and Resurrection of our Lord into a photo op, turning what should be the most joyous holy days into an occasion of sin for faithful Catholics.
Now, some of you will be saying, "Yeah, right on! I wish our pastor would put his foot down and flush out creeps like that once and for all. This year, I'm bringing my BB gun -- you bet I'll get a seat. And if your park in my spot and your car has an Obama sticker, let's just say I hope you've enjoyed having such nice, unslashed tires up until now."
And some of you will be saying, "Shame on you. If we're going to call ourselves Catholics at all, the only sensation we'll feel is an overwhelming ecstasy that these lost sheep are here at all. All through Lent, I pray that I won't be able to find a seat, because the pews will be so full. When I look at someone wearing ear buds all through Mass, I see the face of Christ, oh yes I do."
My goal, as the Triduum begins, is to land somewhere in between those two extremes. I really am glad that they're there. It's got to be better than never going to Mass, and I do believe that the Holy Spirit could easily use that opportunity to send a powerful word, a lingering image, a stray idea into the mind or heart of a fallen-away Catholic, and a casual visit that was made just out of habit, or to please someone's grandma, might be the first step to coming back home to the Faith. And yeah, they're not being reverent. Neither am I, by going through the motions while grumbling in my heart.
But I know my limits. I know I'm not going to suddenly turn into Mother Teresa, especially if I show up forty minutes early and still have to spend the whole Mass on my poor tired feet, trying to keep nine kids docile and attentive when the strangers who did get a seat are playing on their Gameboys. With the sound on. Sure, the answer is, "Love them and welcome them," but that's sort of like when I say, "I can't afford health insurance," and someone with three times my income says, "Oh, but you can't afford not to have it." Your comment may be accurate, but it's not helpful.
So, how to deal? Here are some realistic ideas for people who want to be more charitable, but who know their limits:
1. Just pick the least popular Mass. It might be the midnight vigil, or it might not. If you're not sure, ask someone on the church staff -- they will know which times attract which crowds.
2. Get there super early, like more than 45 minutes before Mass is supposed to start. If you have a bunch of little kids and aren't insane enough to add 45 minutes to an already long liturgy, get someone else to do it for you, and use jackets or blankets to stake out a pew in the front, where you won't be distracted.
3. Give yourself and your family a big pep talk about expectations. Something like, "Look, we know that there are going to be lots of new people here, and they won't necessarily know how to behave at Mass. So if you get distracted by them, look at the crucifix, and say a quick prayer that God will bless them and us, too." Sometimes making it an official plan of action, saying it out loud, and purposely setting an example for kids or others, makes all the difference.
4. Don't fall into the Hallmark Trap. The Hallmark Trap is when we are tricked into feeling like we deserve picture-perfect Special Days at regular intervals throughout the year. The Hallmark Trap means that on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, birthdays, anniversaries are always going to be a little bit disappointing, because there's no way that real life can measure up to a carefully choreographed three-minute commercial spot designed to sell overpriced consumer goods. It's nice that Mother's Day is a special day set aside for your kids to appreciate you, but there's no guarantee that they won't get a stomach bug and throw up on your bed while delivering your breakfast on a tray. Is this unfair? Not really. It's just what it means to be a mother: sometimes, people throw up on you, and you have to be sympathetic to them.
When we fall into the Hallmark Trap when we're living the liturgical year, we might find ourselves thinking, "Sure, I can be patient and charitable and generous, and offer up irritations and set-backs all throughout the rest of the year. But I deserve a flood of peace and grace and joy on Easter, because it's the Resurrection, dammit!" But there's no guarantee that Easter will work out that way. Maybe it will; but if it doesn't, that's not unfair. It's just what it means to be a Catholic: we need Easter because we're crappy people who get mad at other people even during Mass. It just means we're still the Church Militant, still looking forward to the Second Coming. Thank God the graces of the risen Lord don't come to us only when it's a picture perfect Mass.
Well, good luck. And for crying out loud, you don't need to tell me I'm a terrible Catholic for even needing to worry about these things. I'm already clear on that. If you find it in your heart to pray for and be generous to fallen-away Catholics, you might just go ahead and say a prayer for people like me, too. We're trying! And I won't even bring my BB gun.