Sunday, June 7, 2009

Listening to God

I tuned into Boletín Católico this morning expecting to hear Padre Hoyos' peppy, slightly over-caffeinated tones and initially didn't recognize the priest who was on the air. As he went through an explanation of the Trinity and talked about the importance of really focusing on what is going on during the Mass rather than just parroting the responses, I knew it could only be Padre Alex.

The man has the concentration of a Zen master or a martial arts practitioner. He talked about how we often think God is absent, that He doesn't hear us, when in fact it is we who are not listening to God. By the time he got to his signature line about the "Misa de cuerpo presente" -- a Mass where people are present in body but not in spirit (for non-Spanish speakers: this is a pun because it it is also what we call the funeral Mass) -- I knew it was Alex. And I found myself wishing that I had time to sit and take notes rather than having to get myself out the door to catch the bus to church.

At church, Fr. Joe reinforced the first part of Fr. Alex's talk by pointing out some of the places in the liturgy where we hear the Trinitarian formula. The second part of the lesson -- or, rather, our failure to listen -- was unfortunately amply demonstrated by two of my fellow parishioners.

The lady sitting next to me made a big show of turning off her cell phone so as not to disrupt the Mass. What she didn't turn off was her mouth. Within minutes of the opening procession, she was commenting about one of the First Communion children -- a fussy, crying little girl who, according to the lady, must be "consentida" (spoiled). She looked at me as if inviting a response. I muttered that perhaps the child was sick or nervous and turned away to discourage further talk.

By the time we got to the Eucharist, the woman's attention was completely elsewhere. After taking communion and a perfunctory minute or two of kneeling, she began a conversation with the woman on her other side that continued until the post-communion announcements. For the record, it should be noted that both parties are over 30 and regular church attenders. They know better.

There is a fine line between casual and disrespectful. It is possible to wear jeans and still have a reverent attitude. It is also possible to be impeccably dressed and insensitive to one's surroundings. Even First Communion kids know that you pray silently or sing the communion hymn and remain kneeling if able to do so until the priest has returned to his seat. The Eucharist is a time for prayer and concentration, not chatter and dispersion.

If we adults do not model proper church behavior, how can we expect our children to behave appropriately? I remember once hearing a little girl whining during Mass: "Daddy, I'm bored!" To which her father replied in a loud whisper: "Honey, I'm bored too. It'll be over soon." Hello??? Is this how we teach our children to appreciate the faith?

I have seen children having fistfights, using the church window ledges as climbing aids, making castles out of hymnals, running unaccompanied all over the sanctuary and even into the altar area, chewing gum and sticking it anywhere and everywhere and the parents? Missing in action or plaintively explaining to the ushers that they cannot control their children.

But how can we control our children when we can't even control ourselves? Reverence should start the moment we enter the sanctuary or, failing that, at least when Mass begins and it doesn't end until the final note of the closing hymn has sounded. You can chat with your neighbor any time but, as Father Alex says, Mass is the time to talk -- and more importantly, listen -- to God.

Photos: Father Alex communicating with God and with one of God's children with the same respect and centeredness.

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