A few random thoughts and ponderings to start the week...
During the September 11th commemorations this weekend I got to hear again the lyrics of some of the later verses of America the Beautiful. Obviously, the first verse has the words "God shed His grace on thee," but the religious references continue throughout. I was particularly struck by the words: "Confirm thy soul in self-control," in the second stanza. In this age of instant gratification and self-centeredness, at a time when people want all of the pleasure in life without the pain and none of the consequences, this lyric should tell us something about the true fabric of American identity... as it once was. Maybe during these times when we remember the sacrifice of others we can examine our own lives and see where we might benefit from a little more self-control.
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A woman who attends church with us allows her 7-year-old son to wonder up and down the aisles during the sign of peace, shaking everyone's hand as quickly as he can before the opening notes of the Angus Dei. Usually he is still tromping back to his seat from the furthest reaches of the church while everyone else is focused on the Blessed Sacrament and preparing to receive Communion, stopping as he goes, expecting a handshake long after the sign of peace has ended. Needless to say, this presents a bit of distraction.
I recently heard the mother remark, "Some people may think that it's inappropriate for him to run around like that in church, but I see the smiles on people's faces and I just know that it's OK."
Now I do believe that the Mass should bring us joy. Awaiting the reception of the Eucharist might certainly bring a smile to our faces. But that is not the same thing as being distracted by an amusing romp from a seven-year-old during a solemn moment of the liturgy. Is it really "OK" just because it makes people smile? There are any number of things we might do at Mass that would bring a smile to people's faces, but the question is: Are those things appropriate? Are we shifting the focus away from Christ just to get an emotional reaction?
If we just want to make people smile, we could have a comedian do a five minute stand-up routine just before Communion. That would bring a smile to people's faces. We could have the priest wear a clown costume and floppy shoes. We could do many things that bring a smile to people's faces, but the liturgy is not ours to manipulate. Making people smile by distracting them from the Eucharist is not a valid excuse to allow your children to wonder through the aisles unattended.
My wife and I have three young kids. We know that they can be disruptive at Mass, but we try to teach them how to behave appropriately in that setting. We set certain limitations. Obviously there will be occasional outbursts, and misbehavior. I don't mind that (...in fact, I expect it). When that happens, we do what is necessary to correct the situation and then hope that they do better next time. People around us are very understanding when our kids misbehave. They usually smile a "knowing" smile and get a little chuckle. It is puzzling to me that a parent would use such a smile from a stranger as a valid excuse to allow (and even encourage!) their child to continue the disturbance.
"...I see the smiles on people's faces and I just know that it's OK." - Well, no, actually it's not.