I’m a Jerk

It’s true. I’m a total jerk sometimes. And it took my five-year-old to point it out to me.

Here’s what happened. No, wait, I can’t just tell you what happened unless I give you a context for it, so perhaps you won’t think I’m quite as bad as I appear. Although I’m still pretty bad.

As most of you know by reading my sidebar and catching my frequent references to the godforsaken desert, we live in Las Vegas. Well, we actually live about three miles outside of Las Vegas proper, in a town called Henderson. Henderson is actually a pretty great place to live with children. Their goal as a city is to have a park within one mile of every dwelling (including apartments), and they’ve accomplished it. There are parks everywhere, and great ones. They also have a carousel right in the center of town, surrounded by restaurants and shops. Right next to the carousel is a big green lawn where they have an Outdoor Picture Show during the spring, summer and fall months. Every Friday and Saturday night, they set up a screen and speakers and hand out free popcorn to everyone who brings their littles out. No charge. It’s really awesome.

As most of you can imagine, three miles east of us things are not so family-friendly. Thankfully they’ve finally banned the glass-plated vans in which strippers danced on poles as the driver drove slooooowly up and down the Strip, but there’s still an incredible amount of smut going on over there. We took Sienna down to the MGM to see the lions once, when I was seven months pregnant with Charlotte, and then walked down the Strip to show her the dancing waters at the Bellagio. The Ogre and I did some fast talking to keep her eyes off the carpet of business cards showcasing naked prostitutes under our feet, but we couldn’t really do much about the card flippers who repeatedly tried to hand my husband (carrying a two-year-old, holding the hand of his pregnant wife) the same cards.

What these two diametrically opposed cities have in common, however, is a terrible diocese. I’m not flinging mud or splitting hairs here. It’s awful, from the Cathedral all the way down to our local parish with a Buddy Christ statue instead of a crucifix.

Only a very slight exaggeration of what we see on Sunday mornings

Here’s an example. Last year, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at the Cathedral, the bishop did not give the homily. Nor did any of the priests from the diocese. Rather, the director of religious life gave the homily. The subject of the homily was, “Jesus’ Conception and what that means to us.” On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

We finally found a parish we like called St. Joan of Arc, a small chapel on the old strip right across from the jail. But it’s a nice chapel, small and modest, with a beautiful little grotto and statue of Mary on the side. The parishioners are mostly older people, although there are a few young families with children who show up once in a while.

Two weeks ago we were having a crazy day with the kids and the prospect of driving across town to St. Joan of Arc was too much, so we flew out the door at the last minute and made it to 5 o’clock Mass at the parish down the street, the one with the Buddy Christ statue.

So, we’re not fundaCatholics. At least, I’m not. The Ogre prefers the Tridentine Mass but I prefer the Novus Ordo, mostly because my Latin is terrible and I never know what’s going on. Also, there’s the latent Protestant in me who likes to have Mass said in the vernacular because, well, Latin is elitist and only very snobby people like my husband (and you, Janet) know it. But we both very much believe that this is “the Holy Sacrifice of Mass.” It is holy, and a sacrifice, and should be treated as such. People have died for this, have bled for it, and not only Our Lord whose sacrifice we celebrate. Throughout the ages saints and laypeople have braved incredible odds for this sacrament, odds so daunting that the pain I’ve suffered over the spiritual estrangement from my family seems hardly worth mentioning beside the suffering of the martyrs. We believe that respect should be given, children should be told to behave, and there should be a certain solemn joy with which Mass is treated.

Unbeknownst to us, this was the 5 p.m. “Life Teen” mass. We both winced a little when the drums and guitars started up, but we dealt. It was okay. We both flinched a lot when hands went up all over the church and people began waving them. We both gaped in disbelief when the priest’s homily, which was on kindness, ended with, “If Jesus had done what He did but wasn’t as kind as He was, we wouldn’t remember Him today. It was His kindness that mattered.” We both started seething when the Creed was sung with percussionist accompaniment and the people shouted out “I do!” instead of actually saying the words. But when a rock-and-roll tune was played during the consecration and the priest began dancing behind the altar, we left.

It was a decision we were uncomfortable with, but we were also uncomfortable staying. There was no solemnity, no respect. It bordered on sacrilege.

When Sienna asked us in the car why people raised their hands, we explained that raising hands is a bad thing to do in Mass. Still upset, I said this to her: “Sienna, Mass is a time when we thank Jesus for giving His life for us. It was very bad of those people to raise their hands during Mass, because it showed that they weren’t being respectful of the pain Jesus suffered for us on the cross.”

Yeah. I was mad, and not particularly inclined to be charitable about what we had just witnessed.

Yesterday when we went to Starbucks before going to the abortion clinic, I went up to the counter to order our drinks and Sienna sat down at a table. She was in eye range but not ear range, and she immediately struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to her. She showed him her Bible and he kindly asked her something. I looked away to pay and get our drinks, and when I looked back the man was staring at me with a look of deep reproach, almost anger.

Oh crap, I thought. What did she say to him?

I walked over with trepidation in my heart. “Uhh…hi. Wh-what are you guys talking about?” The man just looked away. Sienna said, “I was telling him about those bad, bad people at church who raised their hands and how Jesus doesn’t love them.”

My children are always teaching me lessons, and the lesson I learned here was, “You are a big jerk, and your over-scrupulosity is showing.” Maybe along with temperance, charity should be another goal for 2011.

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