Today, the priest gave a very good homily, about how the Cross is present even in the story of the Nativity.
However, another possible theme for a homily occurred to me, along with the thought that it’s a good thing I’m not a priest or deacon. Call this a fever dream homily:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On this feast of the Holy Family, we recall the ideal family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus our Lord, the day after many of us shared Christmas with our own far from ideal families. With God’s grace, these visits were grace-filled and happy occassions, or, if not that, at least devoid of outbursts of actual violence. We can pray. Since you all are here today, we can perhaps safely assume yesterday’s family gathering wasn’t too bad, and comfort ourselves that, at least we’re more or less off the hook until next Thanksgiving.
Most families come up with a set of mostly unspoken and unwritten rules to keep a lid on whatever simmering unpleasantnesses may lurk. For example, no politics at the dinner table. No profanity around Grandma. No sports on the TV until dessert is served. And so on. In a family of minimal good will, these sorts of unspoken conventions are enough to allow a minimally civilized dinner to pass without actual war breaking out. Sure, they represent largely arbitrary restrictions on our behavior – but that’s a sacrifice we all should, in good will, be willing to make.
Let us now move to the larger family that is our parish. In ages past, the good sisters of legend were sufficient to pass along the unspoken conventions that allowed us to attend Mass together in peace. Sadly, instead of teaching our children their prayers and how to kneel without slouching, many of the few sisters left are modeling pants suits at administrative jobs that involve promoting a number of semi-random heresies and schisms. We can no longer count on the ‘family rules’ on how to behave properly so as to minimize conflict and hard feelings to have been absorbed with our ABCs and Hail Marys. We’re all like the unfortunate boy brought home to meet his girl’s family, if said girl had failed to mention Grandpa’s loathing of Republicans and Uncle Steve’s horror at the Boston Celtics, Cousin John’s militant vegetarianism and that Dad – and NO ONE ELSE! – is to start the turkey around the table. In other words, we’re doomed to come off as jerks, even with the best of intentions.
With that in mind, here’s a few ‘family rules’ about Mass:
– no gum chewing. Just flat NO. Had Sister Mary Francis of blessed memory caught you chewing gum at Mass, your ears would still be ringing and eyes would still be hard to focus, after the whack you would have received. As an aside – gum chewing, even the subtle mouth-stays-closed-no-smacking-lips kind that seems to be a lost art, has ALWAYS been considered rude in company. ALWAYS. So this rule not only removes a distraction and helps keep the blood pressure down among the general congregation, it ALSO will help you if you have to deal with the civilized world at any point outside of Mass.
– Keep it down. Just as, at home, people would frown upon you continuing a conversation right through Mom giving the blessing over the meal, it looks bad, and is real distracting, for you to walk into the main body of the church and start up a conversation at normal (or louder) volume levels. If it can wait, it should wait. If it can’t wait, it should be whispered. This idea also applies to high-fiving people on your way back from communion – if you are that good of friends, how about you see them outside of Mass once in a while, and exchange whatever secrets handshakes your club has devised at that time?
– at least *pretend* that what’s going on is important. Just as if Uncle Bob launched into his favorite war story, you’d be expected to act interested, or at least not openly insult him by crossing your arms, rolling your eyes and sighing, even if whatever is going on at Mass bores you to tears, realize that your fidgeting and rummaging around is not only detracting to those around you, but rude. You can control yourself for an hour. Really.
This is just a start. We can add a few more rules after we get these down. Just think of them as little concessions we need to make to keep the peace in the family. Don’t imagine for a moment that *you*, by complying with these rules, are somehow asked to give where nothing is asked of those uptight people whom these prohibited behaviors offend. Hardly. They are cutting you massive slack. But that’s a topic for another fever dream homily.