open mouth, insert foot

I once read that the whole point of etiquette was NOT to make people feel like buffoons if they didn’t get it right, but rather to provide guidelines so that everybody felt most at ease and comfortable. This was accompanied by a chastisement for those who would make somebody feel uncomfortable for committing a gaffe.

With that in mind, I strive to follow my golden rule of etiquette which is to treat everyone respectfully and also to not take offense at the omissions of others. For example, I try to remember to introduce someone who joins me in conversation with another person, but if I am the person who should be introduced and my aquaintance fails to do this, I just do it myself and don’t get worked up over it.

Well, yesterday I failed completely in my attempt to “make everybody feel at ease.”

I took Katie to her last Start Smart Baseball program session (oh, thank goodness this is over!) yesterday afternoon. One of the other participants is the younger sibling of a girl from Fritz’s CCD class. Olivia had said, at one of the last CCD classes before they made their First Holy Communion, that she wanted to have a party – not just for her FIRST Holy Communion – for her 100th Holy Communion. I asked her to please invite me if she did have such a party.

So when I saw Olivia, I asked her, “How many Holy Communions have you made, Olivia? Four?”

“No….”

“No? Oh, come on…at least 2 or 3, right?”

“No, just one.”

For a second I thought that she just didn’t realize that every time you go to Mass, and you go to Communion, you would count that. But quickly, my brain caught up with the reality of the situation and I knew that, no, she really had only received Communion that one time, nearly a month ago.

And I felt awful. Olivia was probably unaware of my point and quickly discarded my comments as that odd talk that grownups do. But her mom was only a few feet away and very likely heard everything. It’s not that I don’t think they shouldn’t be attending Mass every Sunday. It’s not that I don’t think it’s hypocritical to have your child attend CCD and receive the sacraments but to not go to Mass on Sunday. I really do. I could never have gone through the motions of “raising my kids Catholic” without full faith, without full soul. It’s dishonest.

But I don’t want to make somebody who isn’t where I am spiritually feel bad for not being where I am spiritually. I think it’s the job of priests and DREs to tell parents how to properly raise their kids in the Catholic faith. If she had asked my opinion, I wouldn’t have lied. But in casual circumstances, I don’t think there is much to be gained by making somebody feel bad.

I am just now reminded of another similar circumstance where, once again, I opened my mouth and inserted my foot. It was at a meeting at my last parish. I was a part of the Elizabeth Ministry, which is a great ministry for women. The original group of us who began this ministry were all extremely devout Catholics – most of us had been “born-again” fairly recently. We all grew in our faith tremendously as a result of working together in this group. It was fantastic. This particular meeting came more than a year after the original group formed, and many of the original members had moved on to other things, or were not present at this meeting, and many different members were there instead. Bill was deployed at the time and I happened to describe to the group that I had a babysitter for one thing, but was trying to squeeze confession in as well, but there was some special pre-Cana Mass going on and confession was canceled without warning, making me pretty mad, since my opportunities for confession without kids in tow was limited. One of the ladies present dropped her jaw. She hadn’t been to confession in over 10 years and couldn’t imagine that somebody would want to go so badly that they would get a babysitter.

She felt bad, guilty. I felt bad, for that wasn’t my intention. I was just comisserating with my fellow die-hards.

But my gaffe must have been the prompting of the Holy Spirit. She decided she wanted to go. Her son was in the 2nd grade and would be making these sacraments too. It took about 3 or 4 months with me asking her, at her request, if she had gone yet and with me providing some info on how to go to confession, but in the end, she did go, and felt good afterwards.

So, perhaps my ignorant comments to Olivia did not fall on the deaf ears of her mother. Perhaps she will feel a little guilty for not going whole-hog Catholic (I don’t mean that somebody has to obtain and use every single sacramental or icon or statue available…I just mean if you intend to raise your kids Catholic, then have Catholicism be an integral part of your being). Maybe it will only take Olivia two years to reach her 100th Holy Communion, and not a lifetime.

5 thoughts on “open mouth, insert foot

  1. I don’t know that I would call that an “insert foot” moment. I would call it a “living your faith” moment. My daughter and I travel all over the country for soccer tournaments. We do not miss Mass–ever! Over half of the team is Catholic but most are not as conscientious about attending Mass. I do not make an issue of it but I also don’t hide the fact we are attending Mass while traveling. I am not trying to make them feel guilty or uncomfortable. I realize I am taking away their excuse of “it is too hard to find Mass when traveling”. I live my Faith and if the Holy Spirit moves others by my actions, so be it.

  2. I don’t know, Denise. I think there’s a difference between witnessing to our faith via actions, or even talking about our faith as a part of our life, as in, “No, thank you on the breakfast offer…we’ll just get a donut after Mass,” and challenging others on their behavior (“Oh? Your daughter hasn’t been back at Mass since her 1st Holy Communion?”). I DO think there is a time and a place to spur others on to do the right thing, but I’m not sure that was the time or the place. It’s not my preferred MO.

  3. Sorry, Denise, upon reading that, my comment sounds snide. That’s not how I meant it.I have 2 preferred MOs. One: witness by actions.Two: Use a heavy, blunt instrument to beat sense into someone. I’m already a witness by my actions – I was the assistant CCD teacher, I have 5 kids, I have CATHOLIC written all over my every move. But I thought a heavy, blunt instrument would be better under different circumstances.

  4. One of my favorite prayers is the “Radiating Jesus” prayer. In it my favorite line is “Let us preach you without preaching. Not by words but by our actions. By the catching force. The sympathetic influence of what we do. The evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you.”It’s situations like these where it’s really necessary to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. I think it’s here where the Spirit’s influence, it’s quiet whisper can guide you.

  5. From my perspective, it was Olivia’s mother, not you, who should be embarassed. Isn’t it natural for you to assume that a parent who invests time in a child’s reglious education would follow through in the most basic way by going to mass each Sunday?I believe that your perfectly innocent comment had to have made her question what she was doing (which is a good thing), while saving her the embarassment of a direct confrontation in this matter (not that you would have ever done that, of course!) It is beyond sad that a child eager to participate in the sacraments is not given the opportunity to do so. There is a fine line between respecting others’ ways of handling their spiritual life and covering up your own for fear it might offend them. I can certainly see why you worry, as you don’t want to offend anyone (I share this characteristic with you so I can empathize with this point of view!). But I am here to assure you that living your faith through your actions as beautifully as you are doing should not be hidden! Just as you respect, although disagree with, their different way of approaching their spiritual life, so too can’t you expect that same respect for doing what is right, going to church every week and finding confession when you can? If they are feeling bad, it is because they know, in the face of your devotion, that they are not “with the program”! And this is a good thing. I do belive the Holy Spirit is working through you. Jesus expects us to take some hits in his defense.Joyfully living your faith through regular participation in the sacraments isn’t hitting anyone over the head with preachy-ness. It is just being you, which has to delight God completely. I do agree with you generally that people cannot be forced into being faithful. But witnessing your joy in the sacraments is more powerful than anything you could ever say.(Sorry for the long post–this struck a chord with me! šŸ™‚

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