Sunday, September 23, 2012

On Sunday's Second Reading and the Women Behind Me at Mass

The past few Sundays, the readings have focused on James, on making our faith real in the ways we live our lives. Just in case you thought otherwise, I am a big hypocrite when it comes to living out my faith. My behavior during Mass this morning is a keen example. God have mercy on me, a sinner. 

I was really delighted the four of us - my husband and our two sons and I, were attending Mass together this morning. More often than not, each of us catches the Mass we can each Sunday, depending on the vagaries of soccer, orchestra and cycling schedules of our boys. We rarely all attend the same Mass together.

But here we were today, taking up part of a pew, the four of us looking fairly respectable after a week in which each of us in our family had struggled with either raising a teen or being a teen. It felt as if we had improved the ways we spoke and shared with one another, and were achieving some kind of balance. Then, the talking began behind me.

Two older women sat right behind me and it became clear from their conversation during the processional that one of them had not been to Mass in a while. She noted the beauty of our church, the lovely singing and it was clear her friend was encouraging her to enjoy the worship. They were loud, but no louder that the lively toddler across the way and his baby brother. This is what church is all about, I told myself, being human.  How lovely someone brought their friend to Mass. 

Then, my husband and I noticed our good friend Dan a few pews ahead of us. His wife and younger son were not with him. "Maybe they got tired of him," I quipped, in a whisper to my husband. "About time," my husband joked back. Our two sons wanted to know what we were talking about, so we - quietly I thought - explained. Please understand, my husband refers to us as the family that hates dead air.

As my family was smiling to one another at our inside joke, the processional was finished and I heard a loud expletive from behind me. Instinctively,  I turned around. "Could you PLEASE be quiet?" the visitor said. "We are so sorry," my husband said. And we shut our mouths, as we should have been doing all along.

So much for that, right? Well, actually, no. The two women continued to chatter throughout the Mass, analyzing every portion of the liturgy.

Today's second reading was from James.


Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,

there is disorder and every foul practice.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

Where do the wars

and where do the conflicts among you come from?

Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

In his homily, the deacon talked about humility, about how conflict often comes when we insist on being first and being  right and how we as Christians are called to be humble and to serve others. When he ended his homily, I heard from behind me: "He's a good speaker," the visitor said. Her friend answered: "Not always, but today was really good."

I glanced at my husband. He gave me a hand signal, something we learned from our family therapist about how when someone points to you, the rest of their fingers are pointing back at themselves. In other words, when we accuse someone of behaving obnoxiously, often we are commenting on our own obnoxiousness. Clearly, I thought, that is what is happening here. A hypocrite, in, of all places as church. Hrumph.

As the ladies ' play-by-play analysis of the liturgy continued, I signaled to my husband that I certainly would NOT be giving those ladies the sign of peace. He nodded. I was really getting annoyed. Here I came to church feeling well, proud of our family and how we had overcome some struggles this week and these ladies have to ruin it for us.

Then came the sign of peace. I kissed my husband and then felt a tap on my shoulder. THAT WOMAN. The chattering one. I turned around and she shook my hand. "You have a wonderful voice," she said. "Are you in the choir?" I was, for the first time in a long time, without thoughts and without words. My husband stepped in "she has been in the past but not right now."

One would think that, in all places, I could manage some charitable thoughts in a church, especially after hearing Gospel lessons about humility, about humbling ourselves, about making our lives meaningful for eternity by serving others. It seems today anyway, I wasn't capable of that.

God have mercy on me, a sinner.


  1. I often catch myself being very judgmental. It's rather scary to get to know someone, but when I do, I always find they had great reasons for being the way they are. (A friend once told me, "People think they are being reasonable.)

    1. Sarah: You are so right. I reflected later that I know NOTHING about this woman and she probably has some good reasons for being who she is in this world. Good lesson for me today.