... INSTRUCTING THE IGNORANT!
CHEWING GUM IN CHURCH CONDEMNED
this is the text of a sermon delivered at Christ the King [Que Viva Cristo Rey!!] exactly one month ago. Kneeling Catholics comments are in red.
Comportment in God’s House March 15, 2009
3rd Sunday of Lent (B)
In the Gospel, Jesus performed an important act of the Messiah: he purified the Temple and rededicated it to the Father The Messiah, Jesus, has a special relationship with the Temple: he and the Temple are one; the Temple represents him! The Jewish authorities who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, also did not have respect for God’s house, and were desecrating it.
His disciples recalled the words of Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” When Jesus saw his Father’s house being desecrated, he felt it personally.
Today, we are the holy Temple of God, and our churches are the external representations of our identity as the “Body of Christ.” But more than merely representing us, our churches are true Houses of God, even more holy than the original Temple in Jerusalem. Because in Jerusalem, God dwelt in His house through the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, and a jar of manna.
Today, God dwells in His house not through words on stone, but through the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ, who is really present in the Tabernacle, which is the new “Ark of the Covenant.” We no longer have a jar of manna in the tabernacle, instead we have the ciboria which contains the “true bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:41,48-51) – Jesus Christ, in the sacrament of his Body and Blood.
If Jesus had zeal and reverence for the Temple in Jerusalem as being God’s house, how should we behave in this church, which is the true Temple of God’s presence on earth? Jesus took up a whip of cords and cried out, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” I guess today is the time for me too, to bring out the “whip” and go over the rules of proper behavior in church.
The church is not like other buildings out there. We can’t behave in church the way we behave in the world. This is not like a bank, or a hotel lobby, or a mall, or a department store. This is definitely not an auditorium or a concert hall or a movie theater, where we come to be entertained. Someone told me there is a big non-denominational fellowship in town that actually has a concession booth selling popcorn in the lobby! A lot of churches these days are turning “worship” into concerts and music performances, complete with lights and video screens and preachers who are professional entertainers. [Father, you might have mentioned that 'night club' acts are not only in protestat churches. They also happening in Corpus Christi's Catholic churches as well. Also in our Catholic schools!]
You can understand things like that happening in non-Catholic churches, because they don’t have the Eucharist. But a Catholic Church is different. A Catholic Church is an actual “House of God.” God truly lives and dwells in the building, by means of the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. This is a house of prayer, and we need to have the same zeal and reverence for this house as Jesus had in the Gospel.
This is a house of prayer: not talking, and no cell phones! We need to maintain a reverent silence when we come to church. We need to respect those around us who need this time to be alone with God, and not distract them by carrying on a conversation with our neighbor. We can do that outside.
This is something we also need to teach the children, from the time they are very small. We do need to bring the little children to church, but we also need to train and teach them about God’s house. If they start crying, take them to the back until they calm down.
There is a cry-room in the back, but the cry-room is only for emergencies, and for those situations where the child just won’t stop crying. The only people allowed in the cry-room are the crying baby, and the parent. Toddler-age should be in the church, learning how to behave correctly. Older children should not be in the cry-room at all. If need be, they can sit in the back row right in front of it.
Parents, don’t let children run down the aisles or climb all over the pews: train and discipline them to be still. Do not let them play with the hymnals or make a mess. They need to learn.
And please do not let them eat in church. Infants with a bottle is okay, but absolutely no other food or drink is allowed in church. Here is where we eat the Bread of Life. Not only is it prohibited to eat regular food in church, we are required to fast from all food and drink for at least an hour before coming to Church, out of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It is not just bad manners to chew gum in church, it is extremely offensive to what a Catholic Church is, which is the House of the “Bread come down from heaven.” Catholics should know this, but if we have non-Catholic visitors who are chewing gum, we need to turn to them politely and ask them not to chew gum in church.
We also show our zeal for God’s house by the way we dress and comport ourselves. Women and young ladies should not wear immodest or revealing clothing that calls attention to themselves and distracts others around them. Both women and men should dress formally: Holy Mass is the most important activity we attend in our lives. It is more important than a formal banquet, then a professional workplace, than a job interview. What are we saying to God when we show up for Mass in casual clothes? The clothing we wear is telling others how we view certain activities, and what we consider to be important.
Here too, we need to teach children about dressing properly. This is God’s house. Children should not be wearing t-shirts, or playclothes. Don’t wear clothing to church that has rockstars or the latest fads on them. It is disrespectful.
Teenagers especially need to remember that they have an obligation to dress appropriately, and not insult the people of God or embarrass their elders. Some young people go in for outlandish hair-styles and clothing, piercing themselves and getting tattoos all over the place, just to make some kind of statement. That is not appropriate for a Catholic: our bodies need to have reverence and respect because they are also Temples of God. We need to dress in a way that is respectful of our dignity, the dignity of others (especially our elders), and of God’s house, and not in such a way that we are calling attention to ourselves, making some kind of immature rebellious statement, or simply being weird. If you have any questions about what is appropriate, see me after Mass…
Besides our dress, there is our comportment, or behavior in church. Here again we need to train children correctly. They need to sit and stand straight, and not be slouching or leaning on the pew in front of them. We need to pay attention to the liturgy, listen and follow the readings carefully because it is God’s Word, and do our parts in the prayers and singing. It is impolite to stand there doing nothing when everyone is singing praise to God. Even if children get bored, it is still no excuse for slouching or being disrespectful. And it doesn’t give them excuse to get up during Mass for the restroom. They need to do that before coming to Mass: restrooms in the back of church are only for emergencies.
These may sound like nit-picking or simple things, but they are important. Our society does not teach respect, and it has no reverence for God. That is why we need to be strict with ourselves, and pay attention to these things. Jesus says, if we can’t be faithful in the small things, how will we be faithful with the larger matters? (Mt 25:21, Lk 16:10). This is where it begins: zeal for God’s house, reverence, the awareness of where we are and what it is we are doing.
Many people who visit our parish notice the reverence we have. I believe we are growing in our zeal for God’s house. May the Lord continue to find us serving Him with zeal, honor, respect, and love, in the little things and the big things. [Bravo! We sheep like shepherding, Father. Don't fear that $100,000 donations will stop coming in when the pablum stops gushing forth from the pulpit! As a great man and visitor to our Diocese, Bishop Daniel Flores just told us: Jesus said a lot more than "Have a nice day!"]