This morning, my daughter reminded me that this Sunday is Palm Sunday.
What she meant to say was "Light Saber Sunday." Because every parent of children with blood that is red knows that that is what you get when you bring a bunch of kids to an extra-long Mass and give them each their very own blessed palm branch: furtive duels with blessed light sabers. Also blessed viking swords, blessed mustaches, blessed Harry Potter wands, blessed baby ticklers, blessed back scratchers, and blessed old-lady-in-front-of-us-neck-pokers, and of course blessed Wolverine knuckle blades. At first you think your kid is miraculously giving the responses in ecclesiastical Latin -- and then you realize he's using the cover of the sign of peace to put a cutting curse on his little brother. "Peace be with you!" - "Sectumsempra!" No.
It's far too late to change the culture of laxity and irreverent hooliganism in our family's pew. But maybe at least I can get a little company in my misery? To that end, here are some tips, from my evil children to yours, about how to ruin this most holy time of the year.
Know your stuff . . . .until it counts. You've probably spent the last several months doing some heavy-duty catechism, yes? Your poor mother realizes that the sacraments aren't going to prepare themselves, so you are actually getting regular religion lessons for once. You can reel off the corporal works of mercy without stopping for a breath. You can come up with the definition of imperfect contrition and transubstantiation and sanctifying grace without skipping a beat. And you even know the finer points of genuflection: one knee for passing the tabernacle, both knees and a signofthecross for when the little door is open.
But just wait. Fr. Happy is going to ask the First Communion kids some questions, isn't he? He's going to wait until everyone's quiet, and he's going to demonstrate just how well-prepared the angelic tykes really are. He'll go with something really basic, so as not to embarrass anyone. "Who can tell me," he will say, "Whoooooo can tell me . . .who made the world?" And your kid will shoot up her hand like she's volunteering for a tour of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. And when the priest chooses her, she will proudly say, "Odin! From the dead body of Ymir the Frost Giant!" High fives, pagan.
Learn all the wrong lessons. On Holy Thursday, our kids watch The Ten Commandments while I finish up the cooking for Passover, which we celebrate on Holy Saturday before making Easter eggs. Okay, fine, that is a tiny bit confusing even for kids who have grown up thinking chopped liver is a sacramental. But still, some things seem really clear. Like that scene in The Ten Commandments, where the Hebrew slaves are dragging those big old stone blocks around in the hot, hot Egyptian sun, and just sweating and suffering and just having the ever loving tar whipped out of them by Edward G. Robinson? That's kind of a striking scene, right? So my son is watching this, complete enrapt, eyes as big as saucers, clearly moved to the core at this spectacle of man's inhumanity to man.
And then he speaks. "Boy," he says, "Ohh, boy. I wish I had a whip."
Just go ahead and throw up. Why the heck not? You just got a haircut, you cleaned your ears for once, your nails are trimmed, and your mother is pinning all her hopes on getting one single, lousy family portrait. Just one, that's all she asks. She is just going to flat out beg you to pretend, for the tiniest fraction of a second, to be a decent human being -- one who is not crossing his eyes, nor licking his sister, nor screaming, nor clutching any unseemly part of his anatomy. Just really quick, guys! Here, under the lilac tree! Scoot in so all those old tires aren't in the shot! Sweetie, get your braids out of your mouth! Honey, you're holding the baby in front of your face, I can't see you! No no no, don't put her down in the mud. Yes, perfect, that perfect, now hold it --
Let it go.
And that's why Jesus said, "Let the little children come unto Me." Because He was afraid their parents were gonna deck them in this, the holiest time of the year.