Confrontation at Mass

by Steve Ray on November 29, 2009

I usually mind my own business and worship God at Mass, but there are times I step out of my comfort zone. Once was when the priest said no miracle took place at the multiplication of loaves and fish. Today if was for other reasons. My wife Janet said I was antsy and nervous at Mass today — and I agreed I was.

They walked in and sat down a few pews away from us. To the right a loneyoung boy about 16 years old and to the left a tall white American male with his short oriental wife and two-year-old son. Mass began and the small boy began to fidget while the mother dutifully attended to him, holding him on her hip and trying to keep him quiet. The father was in another world and paid no attention to his struggling wife and child. He was oblivious.

I usually try to pay attention to the liturgy. But I could not but feel empathy for the lonely young man and the struggling mother. The young man of about 16 was sitting by himself and looking around for a friend or support. He was obviously lonely. I have to admit I was distracted out of compassion for these two struggling people.

As the Mass progressed I was progressively agitated as I saw the poor mother struggling with her 2-year old while the tall husband completely ignored her. She looked up at him several times with desperation in her eyes but he refused to look at her or show any support. Yes, as a father of four and grandfather of eight, I was feeling a bit sympathetic for the poor mother thinking of my own daughters with their children.

I also kept wanting to reach out to the lonely young man looking around for someone to give him a bit of affirmation. I wanted to take the poor young wife under my wing and encourage her.

Finally the little wife hoisted the little boy on her hip and pushed past her oblivious and stupid husband and went to the back of the church where she remained — ignored — for the rest of the Mass. He never acknowledged her or even looked back once. I know I should have been paying attention to the Mass and not involved in the others problems — or, should I have? I am not sure.

congregation_easter016The young man offered to usher and quickly stepped up to volunteer with the offering plate. I watched the smile on his face as he was proving to be of some value. People hustled and bustled around him without paying much attention. He looked around for some sign of approval.

When he was done I gestured to him with my finger and called — “Come here!” He was shocked but stepped over to me with a quizzical look on his face. I reached out my hand and said, “You did a great job, thanks for serving Our Lord!” His face lit up like a candle!

Then came the Sign of Peace. The tall white man had never once looked back at his oriental wife still struggling with their son. I had been aggitated with this the whole time. Was I meddling, too curious, or distracted, too intrusive?

Maybe, but when the Sign of Peace came I walked over to the young man first and again said “Thanks for serving us and peace be with you.” I then walked two rows over and shook the tall father’s hand and said, “Peace be with you — you need to be more attentive to your wife and child.” I then walked back to my seat.

In a matter of seconds the tall man walked over an stood by my side and said indignantly, “I am a child psychologist!” We were in Ann Arbor and he probably graduated with a PhD from the University of Michigan. I turned and said, “You may be a psychologist but I am observant! You have completely ignored your wife and child.”

He responded, “This is the Mass!” I said, “I realize that, but your poor wife and child have been in the back and you have ignored them completely. I am a father of four and a grandfather of eight and I have learned a few things over the years. You need to pay more attention to your wife and child or you will some day lose them.”

He was stunned and went back and sat down. His wife was still sitting at the back door struggling with the boy and unable to attend communion. I looked back at her and smiled to encourage her as I had done several times during the Mass.

A child psychologist? I wish he had been a construction worker or bus driver — his conduct would have been more understandable. But a child psychologist?! How can such educated people be so stupid and selfish.

OK, I probably should just mind my own business — not be so judgmental, but I can’t! I am a dad and a husband, a grandfather and a member of the human race and member of the Body of Christ. How can I turn a blind eye? How can I not encourage the young man desperate for attention and the young wife yearning for basic respect and attention from her husband.

The other day I was on a plane. A very heavy woman boarded the plane with a heavy suitcase and told the flight attendant “I will need some help getting my suitcase up in the storage bin.” I jumped up and said, “I will help you,” and I followed her to her seat. After hoisting her heavy suitcase into its place I smiled and said, “I am a Catholic and I love helping people.”

She had a surprised look on her face and said “Thanks.” You don’t have to be a convert to do and say such things.

It is time we began acting like Catholics. It is time we stop being so shy, so politically correct, so careful, so timid. It is time we confront and speak out. Be proud to be Catholic. Challenge our brothers and sisters! Challenge the world! Encourage the weak, chastise the selfish, poke the complacent, share the faith!

Sorry, but I can’t be quiet. Maybe I just have a big mouth.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Fr. Jim Tucker November 29, 2009 at 9:45 PM

Excellent message! I really needed to hear that!

Steve November 29, 2009 at 9:46 PM


I have enjoyed your writing for several years. You are one of the writers who was an instrument of God in my reversion to the Catholic Church. but…..

“A child psychologist? I wish he had been a construction worker or bus driver — his conduct would have been more understandable. But a child psychologist?! How can such educated people be so stupid and selfish.”

This is so completely insulting and boorish. Chesterton once said “the problem with the world today is that many are schooled, but few are educated”. I understand that you were probably upset when you posted this message. I can’t believe that your intent was to insult us (I’m a firefighter) blue collar workers. But seriously… You’re above that stereotyping.

Are you saying that a man can’t be a caring, observant, sensative, loving father and husband unless he first goes to a university and gets “schooled”?

Steve D.

Terry Fenwick November 29, 2009 at 9:49 PM

I loved all of this – all of it – my favorite was, ” When he was done I gestured to him with my finger and called — “Come here!” He was shocked but stepped over to me with a quizzical look on his face. I reached out my hand and said, “You did a great job, thanks for serving Our Lord!” His face lit up like a candle!”

. . . but I loved the fact that you had the encounter with the father – he needed to hear you and you may have saved him and his family from a later disaster. Prayerfully he will discover who you are and contact you and let you know how much you helped him. Prayerfully.

Thank you for living your faith so it shows – and then, the lady on the plane! How sweet – you wore your Catholic on your sleeve – literally – as you raised her heavy bag up to store it for her. I am so glad you told her you were Catholic and you love helping people. You are a wonderful Catholic man and I am so glad I read this tonight.

I love you, Steve. Happy New Year, Steve. Terry Fenwick

Dennis Thompson November 30, 2009 at 12:46 AM

I was surfing you tube today and came across some videos where a priest debated against a protestant minister about Mary, penance, and other subjects..I am a devout Catholic and believe what my church fathers teach us, but to those who don’t know us, it sounded like the minister made some good points. The main problem was the priest was not a good debater. I’ve seen you speak and Scott Hahn. Why is it that great educated speaker like you not debate more for us? I mean on a populated forum like fox news.

laura November 30, 2009 at 12:59 AM

Thanks for writing this–very good advice! Thankfully, my husband IS a construction worker and his conduct at Mass is very much UN-like that of the child psychologist’s mentioned above. At Mass, if 1 of our 4 children are squirming, he is usually the one that takes the loud or squirming child to the back of the church. Hmmm….now I’m wondering if I’m oblivious to him. Nope, probably not I look back and wave at the Sign of Peace (smiling)

theresa cloutier November 30, 2009 at 6:45 AM

Thankyou Steve, you are an EXCELLANT example of christian Catholic manhood!!!! KEEP that mouth of yours flapping!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am closer to 50 than 40 and I attend mass alone on sunday. I really enjoy seeing the “youngens” at mass and smile and look with endulgence when the little ones act up. I am trying NOT to be one of those “old ladies” who looks like she dines on pickle juice with a side of lemons during mass :-)

Steve Ray November 30, 2009 at 6:51 AM

Steve: In no way did I intend to be boorish or insulting. Actually I’ve spent my whole life as a janitor. My point was simple. If he is a child psychologist he should know better. If he did not have the psychology training his behavior would have been less culpable. Had the janitor smashed a window while cleaning or a construction worker could not pound a nail without damaging the door frame the I would have commented on that as well. But the comment was meant to emphasize the disparity between his actually training and the way he lived his life. It would be more understandable for someone NOT trained in his field to act unbecomingly toward his family.

Bottom line, my point was that any other person would have at least the excuse they did not have specialized training in family relations, but this guy did and it made it more shocking.

Cherie November 30, 2009 at 8:00 AM

Thanks be to God to anyone that helps and uplifts a mother and her two year old at Mass!!!!
Great Story!!!!!
Way to go Steve!

Steve November 30, 2009 at 9:10 AM

point taken.

And thank you for “Crossing the Tiber”, “Upon This Rock”, and “The Papacy”.

Emmanuel Kant, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche… all great accomplished psychologists/socioligists/philosophers. All wrong about much. Sometimes the more a person is “educated” the more damage they do when they are wrong. Which makes your point I suppose……

As a society we expect that when someone goes to school they get smarter. Maybe the guy at Mass on Sunday was schooled at Seattle University or Boston College.

Disciple November 30, 2009 at 7:02 PM

I applaud you, Steve, for your courage and your sensitivity. Yes, sensitivity. To the young man and his plight and the poor struggling mother’s plight with both her child and her childish husband. I’ve seen these things happen so many times, though, to my shame, I have not taken steps as strong as you have. I do try to speak to people and smile and give them encouragement. And I’m glad you wrote about your experience here on your blog. You were not, from what I have read, being nosy when you stepped up and spoke out. The Lord must have put it into your heart reach out to His sheep in need. God bless you for listening and obeying our Lord. May all of us learn from your story and go and do likewise. :)

Barbara Edsall November 30, 2009 at 8:44 PM

Even not knowing you, I have come to understand that you’re not overly shy. That said, I think the things you said were actually very loving things to say. Blessed Christmas to you and your family!

Gail Buckley December 1, 2009 at 2:09 PM

Hi Steve,
Couldn’t agree with you more~ I, too, can’t control myself from making similar observations and comments. Tom has actually dragged me out the side door of a church we were visiting once because the priest said there was no miracle with the loaves and fishes (the same priest had previously said at another Mass that there was no sin in Sodom and Gomorrah!!!

Tom was afraid that the priest would humiliate me but I wasn’t worried about what he would say; I just wanted him to explain to me how he could possibly make such statements (such DUMB statements at that!) I also can’t help noticing people chewing gum at Mass or wearing inappropriate clothing.

I also had a very difficult time with a woman who sat in front of me once who worked on grading papers all during Mass – She brought a whole briefcase full of papers to grade and she even worked on these during the consecration. I was so upset and I found it impossible not to notice or not be upset. I never said anything to her but probably should have. I just kept wondering – why did she even come to Mass? What kind of example was she giving the two little girls who were there with her?

I thoroughly agree with you that we need to speak up both to help people and let them know we are Catholics and also to hopefully charitably correct people when we see them doing wrong. Thanks for speaking up and also for making that young man feel welcome.

Cheryl Obos December 1, 2009 at 10:52 PM

Dearest Steve, I just read this blog about your experience in Mass, and whether it was right for you to pay attention to the lonely young man and the idiot husband who ignored his wife and child during the Mass, thereby distracting you. I am in Omaha visiting my parents. I had the opportunity to listen to the Bishop of the Omaha diocese who spoke today about making decisions kind of similar to yours at Mass. He said for example, I am on way to Mass, and along the way, I come across a person in need of a ride or some type of assistance. Though I know it will cause me delay to Mass, I choose the charitable act -offering assistance to the person in need – and that would be okay with God. I know it is different from what occurred with you, but somehow I thought of it immediately after I read your story. Choosing to take action to help someone in whatever type of distress they are in (even if they don’t realize it as the child psychologist), though it cuts our attention or attendance in Mass, God would be just fine with us helping our fellow man. I don’t know it this is at all similar really, but it simply reminded me that truly charitable acts-even before or during Mass can be a true act of selflessness and charity.

Veronica Quintana December 2, 2009 at 10:09 AM

Dear Steave and Gail,
This topic sure did get alot of feedback! I think it is a real delima, distraction in attention to mass because of what is happening in the pews around us. [and sometimes by what is said in the pulpet!] I have not spoken up as you and Gail have, I’m glad for both of your outspokeness for many have benifited from it. [Will I do give some scolding looks, or encouraging looks] Should I decide to address someone in the future, it would not be the first time I’ve embarresed by husband. [which of course I do not want to go out of my way to do] When I was maybe a year into being Catholic, I wrote my priest a letter that bounced back and forth between behaviors around me that added to my joy in mass, and behaviors that issolated me, distracted me and depleted my since of prase and glory. The letter was organized like the old joke, and that was good and, that was bad,… The joke ends in , and that was bad. My letter, I concluded the mass expeience was good [As I know you do to] because no matter the good bad and ugly in the puew around me, and even though the fullness of Gods blessings that he wants me to have through thoughs around me is not fully present, He is fully present as my fullness of blessings, & I “work” at letting the distractions go. While doing this, letting go to be wittness of presents for Christ total pressents, I will also start carefully seeking opportunitys to be bold as you to are [If carefull & bold go togeather, I think they can as Catholics] Thanks as always Veronica Quintana

eddie mrozinski December 7, 2009 at 7:30 PM

Hi Steve, Loved the article and after being with you and watching you and listening to you for 9 days on that pilgrimage in 2005, I would not expect you to act any differently. You showed a great deal of interest and support and love for every single member of that pilgrimage. It’s the way you are and God loves that kind of “involvement.” Ohh, merry Christmas to you and Janet and your family. eddie

James dierk December 21, 2009 at 3:41 PM

Steve I respect you but how can you tell yourself you represented christ in your actions by being a member of the body of christ when you carried yourself and blogged in such a self righteous, judgmental tone. It embarrassed me to read your experience in mass and suggest that others show their faith in the same manner. You fail to bring a christ like approach to the situation when dealing with your brother, rather than speaking to him in truth and grace and trying to understand the situation you condemn his parenting and job as a husband. Some of the less offensive things include you mentioning he was a white man and she was oriental as if race played a factor in your empathy or compassion and as far as the construction worker and bus driver comment, my own father was a construction worker and was a great man of faith I believe any man of God should be above such judgmental remarks. By the way rather than saying your a catholic next time try saying I’m a christian or striking up a conversation about Jesus Christ because it is by his grace alone that someone can be saved not by you as a catholic or the catholic church.

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