Hopefully, by now, my readers know that I am not against talking during Mass. Sometimes it is essential to help kids understand what is happening. Unfortunately, I have become so cranky, particular, and caught up in myself that in my "old" age, I am not so understanding of adults talking during Mass. I'm also very anal retentive about what style music is sung during Mass and several other minute factors. God is really challenging me with this lately and for that I am grateful. This is not so much about being a child's "first catechist" but how we are all called to catechize those who need it, regardless of age.
On Good Friday, I had got to church early and was sitting with close friends. Two women behind me kept whispering. Loudly. Over the prelude hymn. It continued, occasionally, during the Lord's Passion. I was frustrated and annoyed. I would, occasionally, glance over my shoulder hoping they would get the hint and shush. It wasn't until we neared the veneration of the cross that I made out enough of their conversation to understand what was happening behind me. The women weren't Catholic (or at least not currently practicing). They were flipping through the missalette and trying to figure out what things like "veneration of the cross" meant. Sheesh. I felt like a heel. Since we had to leave in silence, I didn't get to apologize for being so rude to them. I made sure to give a friendly smile, though, when I caught the eye of one of them.
My brother is struggling with returning to the Church right now. While I won't go into his private journey here, I will say that he asks lots of amazing questions about faith, scripture, and Catholicism. Fortunately, my mom (a high school theology teacher) and I usually have answers or know where to direct him. That's all you need to know to understand what happened today.
As a catechist in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I am always eager for Good Shepherd Sunday. As I sat down in the pew, I told my niece that these were my favorite readings of the year. I was as giddy as a school girl and couldn't wait for the readings and homily. My brother and his girlfriend arrived just as Mass was beginning and I ended up seated next to my brother. Even though he comes to Mass with some regularity, I haven't sat next to him recently.
During the second reading, he had questions about Peter: when was he born? when did he die? was he Jesus' contemporary? etc. They were excellent questions and important. I patiently answered them. I tried to get refocused for the gospel, but he had more questions. "Is this a parable?" When I explained it came from the Last Supper discourse, "why are we reading a Last Supper story after Easter?" During the homily, Fr. mentioned John, the Beloved Disciple. "Was that John the Baptist?" "What do you mean he died before Jesus? How?" "That book Fr. is recommending (on Marian consecration) sounds good. I need a tool like that."
I know I sighed a few times, but always with a smile. We were talking, a lot, and probably annoying people around us even though we tried to whisper. But it was SO GOOD. And fruitful. I love that my brother cares so much about Mass, scripture, and his faith, even if he is a little lost right now. Spiritually, my brother is like a skeptical, young child, trying to understand his faith. I need to honor this with the same patience and compassion as I would a child. I wouldn't have been at all annoyed if my niece was asking these questions. And I heard enough of the homily to know Father was talking about using Mary to learn how to follow the Good Shepherd. My brother might need to go through my mom and I to get to Mary right now while he sorts out his feelings/beliefs. And that's a good thing because any journey in the direction of Christ is an outstanding journey!!
The talking didn't stop after the homily. During communion, they announced we would sing that Glory and Praise classic: Gift of Finest Wheat. My brother leans over and whispers, "I've always liked this song. It's a good one, isn't it?" I smiled and nodded. Inside, I was cringing. As I listened to my brother sing along, I realize how great it was that we had music at our parish that feeds him, even if it doesn't feed me. I'd prefer some nice chant, but I am SO GLAD that we attend a Mass where we can both be fed, especially while he isn't being fed by the Eucharist.
At Communion ("ARGH. I'm trying to focus on the Eucharist right now!), my brother asked if he could go to a different communion line so my mom could give my niece (who just made First Communion two weeks ago) the Eucharist. Non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics cross their arms over their chest to get a blessing from the priest/deacons at our parish. If you are in a line with an EMHC, he/she places a hand on your shoulder and says, "Receive Jesus in your heart." After Mass, I heard my brother thank my mom for praying with him. I can only imagine that theirs was more intimate than just this simple phrase. I'm glad I didn't ignore him and encouraged him to go to Mom. I"m sure it made her Mother's Day.
If we are truly going to be stewards of the new evangelization, we need to be open to attending Mass with those like my brother and letting those like him sit and talk around us. My brother is not irreverent, rude, or disruptive at Mass. I mistook his behavior as disruptive at first because I was focused on what I wanted to think, hear and pray about. I wasn't focused on his needs. This is not my Mass. It is the congregation's Mass and I owe it to other members to help them get as much out of Mass as I am trying to. By stepping outside of myself, I can receive so many more gifts during Mass. Perhaps, one day, my brother will return to the Table of the Lord. In the meantime, it's terrific watching his journey.
So, I didn't hear the words of the Good Shepherd during Mass due to all the talking. But after Mass, I stopped to listen to the Good Shepherd in my heart. The Good Shepherd's message to me? "Be a catechist. Treasure these discussions with your brother. Be patient. Don't be annoyed. Help him, but let this journey be his own. These conversations and questions are more important than anything right now. How would you respond to a child in your atrium having these questions/doubts?" And my brother? He openly accepted two Lighthouse Catholic Media CDs I got for him after Mass. He's also due over here for dinner and drinks shortly. We promised to to continue the discussion. God is good.