Monday 9 May 2011

"I'll do what I want and you can't stop me..."

"... I don't care what you say or what anybody says. It's what I FEEL that matters!

You would be forgiven for thinking this was a bit of bad dialogue from a soap opera or an outburst by a hormonal 13 year old, but you'd be wrong. The above was my non-Catholic, non-practicing Anglican mother-in-law's reaction to having been asked -- respectfully, and with a gentle explanation as to why it wasn't appropriate -- to not go to communion when she came to Mass with us. I suspect that if we hadn't said anything she might have been put off by the simple fact that she would have been expected to receive Our Lord kneeling and on the tongue, but that isn't the point, and it would not have been worth taking the risk. The conversation was one-sided: 

"I respect ALL religions, so why can't you respect ME?" (by saying that it's just dandy for her to wander up and receive the Blessed Sacrament as part of her "experience" at our church. ALL religions? Even bad ones? Apparently there aren't any -- they're all the same. Try NOT rolling your eyes when having this conversation - I dare you!)

"It's just the same as communion at my church (i.e. Anglican), so why aren't I welcome to have it at your church?" (Yes, we tried explaining that no, it isn't the same, not at all, and had she not heard of the 39 Articles, etc.etc)

It would be tedious to repeat the entire conversation -- needless to say we tried various approaches, beginning with explaining the conditions under which a (baptised Catholic) may receive the Blessed Sacrament... The mere mention of sin and confession prompted much invective about her opinion of the Holy Father (or "The Pope" - I'm not sure if she's aware who "the Pope" actually is, and how he differs from, say, the Dalai Lama) and the priesthood which she clearly has an issue with.

"This is between me and God, it has nothing to do with you or the Catholic Church" (Except it does when you decide to have your generic "religious experience" in a Catholic Church).

My husband asked, very patiently, whether she would refuse to cover her head or remove her shoes if she went to a mosque: "Of course not!" was the scandalised reply "Why would I want to offend people?" But ... but ... but... At this point we were almost lost for words. Pointing out that a non-Catholic receiving the Blessed Sacrament would cause grave offense to Catholics, more so if that non-Catholic were to receive the Blessed Sacrament in full knowledge that they were forbidden to do so, we again requested that she *please* cease and desist. She did "but I'm only doing it for you and I feel completely unwelcome at your church!" I asked her to please not just do it for us, but to do it because it was the right thing to do.

To a large extent it's not really her fault: she's grown up as part of a generation that has had ME ME ME drilled into it since the 60s. She lives in Canada, where "Hey, it's what you feel that matters, man" is the closest you'll find to a moral absolute in mainstream thought. It's likely that nobody has ever, in her adult life, told her that she can't do something... until one day her own son says "no, you can't do that, it's forbidden". Forbidden -- the word itself is VERBOTEN in liberal culture. How DARE anyone forbid me to do anything I feel like. Who the hell do you think you are? And that was the reaction that we got -- utterly unexpectedly. I should point out that my mother-in-law has always been really easy to get on with, and both my husband and I were shocked by her vehement and hysterical reaction to our request to respect the sanctity of the Blessed Sacrament. We weren't aware that she was used to going to communion at all: the conversation had started to find out whether my father-in-law who is, technically, a Catholic although he only goes to church three or four times a year, went to communion on those occasions when he did go to Mass. My husband thought it prudent to discuss whether it was appropriate for him to receive the Blessed Sacrament when he didn't go to Mass regularly, had no intention of doing so, and didn't go to confession. It was at this point that my mother-in-law dropped the bomb that not only did f-i-l receive Holy Communion when he went to Mass, but that she did too. They sometimes go to spaceship-style "Catholic" churches in Canada, where, from what I can tell, anything goes (including non-Catholics receiving Holy Communion). To be told that this wasn't true went against all her experience. It was as though she had landed on another planet, one with different norms, and no matter how kindly, gently, or simply these things were explained to her, her reaction was to panic and lash out.

It's only fair to mention that both in-laws were given a very warm welcome at our parish, and made a great fuss of in the parish hall before Mass. They insisted on leaving immediately after Mass, saying "we're not welcome here".

It was a very sad day. Please pray for them, please pray for our extended family.

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