I really appreciated this comment to the Take Your Kids to Mass post.

Scowling is not inherently uncharitable.  Sometimes it is the only silent way to communicate such necessary but unspeakable messages as “Your kid has been screaming his head off for five minutes straight [much more than the 'minute or so' Dr. Popcak recommends] and you are not doing anything but patting him on the head and trying to giving him a binkie.  Get the kid out of here right now so the rest of us can pray.”  If a scowl clues in an oblivious parent that the crying has passed the point of “fussy” and moved into “intolerable,” I will not be sorry if it inspires that person to scoop up his or her kid and tend to the kid’s needs outside.

Can I tell you how much I would love things to be that simple?  I LOVE the idea of scowlvangelism.   I can think of so many amazing uses for this technique.  Anytime I disapproved of something or someone, I could just scowl  at them and…poof!  They would immediately resolve the problem to my satisfaction.  This would have to be the superpower to beat all superpowers.

Except, as many times as I have personally indulged my scowlvangelical tendencies,  people stay remarkably unchanged.  Now it is possible that I have not hit on exactly the right facial expression or twitch of the eye.  Perhaps my brow is not furrowed severely enough or, alternatively, perhaps it is furrowed too severely to be taken seriously.  It may well be that I have not yet mastered that correct balance of scornful disdain combined with charitable indifference and haughty self-aggrandizement that melts the heart of my erstwhile foes.  I admit this is a difficult balance to strike.

But I don’t think so.

To be honest, I think that no matter how much I have mastered the exact pitch of my right eye-brown muscle, that creating change takes a lot more effort.  That, of course, stinks, because I happily admit that I am lazy by nature and not particularly interested in complicating my life.  Nevertheless, I cannot think of a single instance of successful scowlvangelism perpetrated by me or anyone else.  The only way to create change in anyone I know is to 1) form a genuine relationship with them (as opposed to an agenda-laden relationship that makes them feel like a project. 2) work to show them that I really do care about them and their life.  3) Be willing to share my wisdom and experience if my example somehow inspires the person to ask.

I admit scowlvangelism is much easier and self-satisfying but I think we all need to face that as tempting as it is, it is hard to reconcile it with the gospel.  If I really want to effect change, I have to be willing to follow my savior’s example and pursue a deeper a deeper relationship with the person who’s good I want to serve.  And if I’m not willing to do that, then I should use the temptation to scowlvangelism as a cue to practice an even better spiritual exercise, and offer it up.

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About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit

  • Anne McD

    Here’s the thing about “scowlvanglism:” whenever I’ve been tempted (and I mean “tempted”) to do it, it usually comes on the heels of some self-righeous thought spurning from where I’m right and they’re wrong and darn if they don’t just get on my bandwagon. I should know, I do it often. The kicker is, I ususally don’t know what’s going on inside their head. I’ve got a friend with six children who, when their five were very young and verycloseinage, would sit very strategically in Mass. If a parent were to get up with a loud child to take them out, they could bet on two others bolting out of their pew, leaving one parent to chase them down with the hopes that the other two didn’t fall into mischef of their own. And you can be sure, those kids would run to the altar. I’ve left my children in a pew to take a squaking child out only to look up and see a fistfight breaking out in the sanctuary. Judging others at Mass for what I think they should be doing and tsk tsking my way through the Mass? Guilty as charged. Relived to my core when what seems like the least likely person comes up to me after Mass and tells me that I’m doing a great job, to hang in there, and good for me for bringing my kids to Mass? You bet. Which person is being Christ to me? The one I have to remember to emulate the next time I want to pull a holier-than-thou on someone else.

    • Dr. Greg

      Been there. Done all that and more.
      Dr. Greg

  • Rita Miller

    The thing that is missing here is an offer to help. Our parish has extra hands to help moms. Coloring bags to keep little kids busy. For years our ushers would hold children. Offering to sit with the bigger kids so mom can take the fidgety 1 yr old to the back, showing a child where we are in mass, or even using the words “how can I help you” can turn a occasion to grumble into an opportunity to serve.

    • Beccolina

      Yes, this. We are blessed to have several teens in our parish who are happy to bring our older two up next to them if I have an emergency with the youngest and no help (my husband works rotating shifts, so there is the regular weekend where he cannot make mass due to his schedule). It’s such a treat for the older two and such a relief for me. I’m also blessed to be in the same parish as my parents, so we usually have three generations in the pew.

  • Michelle

    Since I wrote the comment, I’ll respond. I spoke mainly out of annoyance to someone who was chastising me for being irritated with oblivious parents who let their kids do whatever the heck they please at Mass and then try to shame me for being irritated. I don’t really turn a beady eye on anyone whose kid annoys me. I do offer it up. I usually duck my head and tense up, telling myself to breathe, when some kid won’t stop crying and no one takes him out.

    But I’m not opposed to scowling in principle. There has to be a non-verbal means of conveying irritation to people who are refusing or ignoring their responsibilities to the community. I can’t tell them outright to stop because I don’t have the authority and don’t want to escalate the situation. If the stink eye reminds them that others are being affected by their kids’ uncontrolled crying, I am more than happy to defend the right of someone willing to do it.

    You know, uncontrolled crying and disruptiveness are not tolerated in courtrooms, libraries, movie theaters, and many other secular venues where parents are expected to respect the rights of the community to necessary quiet. We are expected to respect our neighbors there. Why are parents not expected to love their neighbors enough at church to preserve the communal quiet, and in fact get to play the victim of the Mean Christians who are told they are child-haters for wanting to pray in peace?

  • Michelle

    PS: And, after this postscript and having said my piece, I’ll let the rest of you take the conversation from here.

    Could we please stop brandishing the WWJD? placard? Jesus did a lot of things that are not necessarily appropriate for ordinary Christians, such as driving people out of the Temple who were misusing his Father’s house. Could we also please stop setting up our own righteous selves as “mini-Jesuses”? Your own way of handling a delicate situation does not make you a better follower of Jesus than a brother or sister in Christ who is doing his or her best under trying conditions. Just ask St. Jerome, the patron saint of crabby people.

    Discussions like this probably would go a lot more smoothly if everyone (yes, including me) presumed the good will and Christian commitment of all parties, even (perhaps especially) of those with whom they disagree.

  • Barbara

    Scowlvangelism is the best new word ever! Though perhaps best used by parents of unruly children at mass…

  • Guest

    It’s a well known fact that scowls don’t work on people who are already clueless or indifferent to whether they are obnoxious. It’s a waste of time.
    People who care about not annoying other people however, will generally respond to even the slightest indication that others are noticing their child’s crying and just might be inconvenienced by it.
    Here is something else to think about and ask yourself if you are a parent who thinks it’s OK to let a baby cry anywhere and anytime. Are you an occasion of sin for someone else who can’t handle your crying baby as well as you can? Are you creating a situation where a person might be provoked beyond their ability to remain kind and loving just so you can have your ‘rights’? Just a thought – since we are all part of the Body of Christ and some members are weaker than others to some kinds of stress.

  • Ellen

    You’d think by these comments that 95% of parents let their kids scream and run wild. I’m not seeing it. *Occasionally* there will be clueless or rude (“my child’s the best thing that ever happened to this world and everyone should be thrilled with listening to him shriek and bang the kneeler on the floor”) parent, but the vast majority are DOING THEIR BEST, and, speaking from personal experience, are as mortified by their child childish (imagine that!) behavior as you are irritated by it. The thing about young children is that they aren’t robots, you can’t just press a “reboot” button and make them instantly quiet. It takes time, and if a parent is really trying, the last thing they need is a scowl! This reminds me of articles about breastfeeding in public. I have NEVER seen a woman “whip her breast out” and flash everyone and self rightously feed her baby because she can (by law), but by the comments in those articles, you’d think 95% of breastfeeding mothers were nudist streakers trying to lead people into sin. If the kids in your parish are really that bad, I’d suggest moving to a different area where parents still parent. But I really think you’re perpsective may be a bit skewed.