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.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06319545333588899129 Cynthia

    Ha, I really love this!I tell you, I am so appalled by many of the Teen Masses I've been to as well. I want to like them…and perhaps even support their efforts, but the many I've attended have saddened my heart so much. Why IS that? Children are great teachers, by the way. Esp. when they imitate you. It's downright scary.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10135272827538989265 Andrea

    Oh noooooooooooo.Children are a natural form of mortification.Oh goodness. I feel for you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17448209025229146658 Mignon

    A curious post, Calah. Your description of this appalling scene gave you so many things to critique — it's clear, from my perspective, that the most scandalous things that happened were conducted by the priest, not the congrgation. Did he really get ON the altar and dance????? Horrifying. You are too hard on yourself here. You tried to think of something mild to say to your child rather than criticize the real jerk, the priest, so it seeems. So very sorry….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07632005486245515873 Calah

    Sorry, I guess this wasn't a very clear post. I should have added in as background that the Ogre's father has had quite a few things to say to us about not being able to find a parish, and that it is due to our overscrupulosity, which I don't doubt. I am in the habit of calling the entire area where the priest stands the altar, not just the actual altar, so sorry about that. He stood behind the altar as he began the consecration and sort of bobbed along to the beat. It wasn't as bad as I made it sound, but I still felt that it was terribly inappropriate. I maintain that our decision to leave was appropriate, what I was uncomfortable with in myself was the anger I had at others' raising their hands. That is perhaps overscrupulosity; after all, many of them have only been to this type of parish their entire lives and may not know better. And there is always the possibility that I expect to much solemnity in Mass and not enough joy. I don't know. I do know that I never want my child to learn to call other people "bad", especially from me. And I NEVER want her to think, even for a second, that Jesus doesn't love someone because of the way they behave. So I did feel like a jerk for not clarifying to her that some people express joy at Mass in a different way, and a way that we believe to be inappropriate, but that God loves them nonetheless. And I think she picked up a lot in my attitude toward those people, which was truly too negative.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09942928659520676271 JoAnna

    I hope you reported the DRE homilist to the Bishop, or went even higher up the food chain. And I'm relieved the priest wasn't dancing ON the altar; I was pretty horrified when I initially read your post.My husband and I visited Vegas in 2007 and went to the Cathedral for Mass; it was okay when we were there. I'm glad you were able to clarify with Sienna, but ouch. Definitely a "I want to die of embarassment" moment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02453036787454394224 C.B.

    Hello, I only found this post a couple of weeks ago, but this post has struck a chord with me. I am very involved in Life Teen at my parish. And it enrages me when Life Teen masses are not liturgically correct. It is so important to bring teens to the Eucharist, but only if it is correct!At our Life Teen mass, there are guitars and drums, but at our parish music is pretty contemporary. I see music choice as a personal preference in how to praise our Lord!But the stuff that you shared that irked me was singing the Creed, the 'rock and roll' Eucharistic Prayer. Ah! I share your frustration with this.I guess I just have one question for you. I assume the Life Teen mass was Sunday night. Did you go to a different mass on that weekend? I guess I'm wondering, is it more important to receive our Lord in the Eucharist for that week, or leave the charismatic mass?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07632005486245515873 Calah

    C.B.-That's a good question. We didn't go to a different Mass, although I think we either should have gone to a different Mass or stayed at the one we were at. I do think it is more important to receive the Eucharist and if I could do it again I would leave and go to a later evening Mass. However, I don't think that leaving put us in a state of mortal sin. Although I'm not sure on that one. I think we'll be making a trek to Confession this week anyway, so maybe I'll ask the priest then. Good question, good point. I'm kind of with you on the music being a matter of preference. I was raised Protestant, so the guitars and drums are a little too familiar for me to be comfortable with them, but I certainly don't think they're necessarily bad. I agree that singing the Creed and the rock and roll stuff during the Consecration, in addition to the awful homily and the dancing priest, were the real problems. Thanks for the comment, and for reading!

  • Fr. Robert Dye

    An interesting post.

    I am not quite sure how I arrived at your blog; I *think* it was within a couple of clicks from Google News aggregate on the Catholic Church.

    A couple comments:

    I would not want to set foot in a Catholic Church with a “Buddy Christ” statue. As funny and dead-on as I thought “Dogma” was – aside from the feces monster, yuck – (God always follows His own rules, no matter the cost, God chooses the unlikely to accomplish His will, etc.) I think the “Buddy Christ” is woefully out of place in a Catholic (or any) church setting.

    We as Catholics are parochial, not congregational. This means we do not choose our parish, but attend the proper one. The local one. Everyone in the parish, young, old, rich, poor, black, white, etc. Your picking a parish plays into the hands of those who would divide the Church.

    I know this is hard. If your local parish has a Buddy Christ, you are going to have to work really hard at this. Write to the pastor as to why you feel it is inappropriate. Keep copies of all correspondence. BE RESPECTFUL AT ALL TIMES.

    If you don’t get a satisfactory result, go to the bishop. Forward copies of all correspondence with the pasor. (Aren’t you glad you stayed respectful?)

    DON’T go to the bishop first. That’s rude. VERY rude. Try to tesolve it with the pastor. Try to show your faithfulness to your local parish by showing up every week, and greeting the pastor warmly, as if your disagreement was in the past. If he has a project you can get on board with, be supportive of it.

    Vent when you have to. I’ll listen, if you want.

    (Omigosh. I’ve got to start getting ready to be 30 miles from here by 10:00. Gotta go, but write back if you want!)

    Peace in Christ.

    Fr. Robert Dye
    Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma
    Somewhere in Western Arkansas
    Sunday, March 17, 2013

    • calahalexander

      Fr. Dye, thanks for your comment. This post was written a few years ago, when my husband and I were less aware of and more defensive of our tendencies to self-righteousness and over-scrupulosity. We now attend our local parish, but since we’ve moved to Ave Maria the Buddy Christ statue is certainly not a problem anymore. Nevertheless, if we were to move back to Vegas we would just attend our local parish no matter what. I agree with everything you’ve said here, it just took me a while to come to see it as true. Sometimes converts can get caught up in liturgical zeal and lose sight of other things in the quest for the “best” Mass. That’s a tendency that I am trying to root out. I do love that Catholicism is parochial, and feel sad that so many Catholics have lost sight of that and “vote with their feet” (to borrow a phrase I saw on Taylor Marshall’s blog) for liturgical purity. No liturgy can be reformed without the participation and interest of the parishioners.

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