Some days I just weep for the state of our parishes and the souls within them - and the very fact that our fallen nature has created our circumstances. Which, ironically, is why we go to Mass.
This morning I attended Mass, arrived early in order to pray. Several others arrived as well, as the church was relatively quiet. Then some families arrived with their fussy children, and more people arrived, and then came a couple who sat behind me, loudly talking to each other.
Recollection gone. I tried to "offer it up" and be patient. I failed miserably.
They continued with mindless chit-chat, almost in my ear. Or both ears, as it were. I was resigned to the fact this is what Mass was going to be like, until I heard one of them comment, "I really don't like children."
To my surprise, rather than being angry, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Dislike children!? I realized many young ones were crying at that moment, and there was a child in front of me actively playing and talking to his mother. But they didn't bother me nearly so much as the couple behind me talking loudly and stating how much they dislike children.
I'll admit I used to get distracted by children, and quite annoyed by them. Over time, though, I have come to not really notice if they are crying, but rather, if they are silent. A parish devoid of children is a dying parish. I thank God my parish is vibrant and filled with the cries of children! Glory be to God! Alleluia!
And then comes this couple desiring to quash that, while their behavior was far, far worse.
Yes, I was annoyed.
I was annoyed by many things today, and struggled to pray. The music was so theologically bad that I missed the psalm and had to page through and read it for myself. As the Feast of the Ascension is transferred to the 7th Sunday of Easter in my diocese, today's Gospel, MT 28:16-20 proclaims: (say it with me!)
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father,and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
So, did you catch that? Jesus told us to GO FORTH AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM AND TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THAT JESUS HAS COMMANDED US.
Then our communion hymn sang about bread, and our closing hymn was "As A Fire is Meant for Burning", containing the words:
Not to preach our creeds or customs,but to build a bridge of care,
UM, WHAT!? How in the world does that line up with the Gospel COMMAND to preach our creeds and customs?
How do we celebrate the Ascension, hear the command of Christ to go forth and evangelize, and then leave church having just sung that we just have to be nice to everybody, but for the love of God, don't, under any circumstances, preach our faith or baptize anyone!??????
Folks, it's no wonder Catholics aren't out there evangelizing and living out today's Gospel command: we undermine ourselves before we even leave the building.
Here's the danger in singing such bad music: the Arian heresy spread by music. The Arians were great marketers and spread their bad theology through a catchy tune. That overcame the True teachings of the Faith, thus confusing people and leading them into heresy. The brain remembers and repeats music (ever got a bad earworm? Yeah, exactly). So thousands of people are going to leave today singing all about how we should be nice but never evangelize.
Yes, that annoys me. And it SHOULD. It should annoy YOU, too. It explains a lot about the state of many Catholics today, doesn't it?
Today, as I fought those annoyances, as always, I tried to think about the Saints. People are people in every age, and Saints were people, too.
It is a temptation in our age to glorify the Saints so much so that we forget their humanity. We read their writings and we are in awe of their holiness, seeking to learn from them how to follow Christ. If they can do it, WE can do it, right?
Unfortunately, we fall into this weird trap of thinking the Saints were somehow robotic and didn't get annoyed, or angry. We seem to think the Saints were nice to people all the time, and that's why they became Saints: that they learned not to "feel" anything.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Saints were all human beings and you know what? They got ANNOYED with people and situations! And I'm really glad I don't have to hear what St. Padre Pio would be saying about the music we sing at Mass in our age! I'm glad I don't have to watch St. Thomas Aquinas roll in his grave. I'm glad I don't have to withstand the fiery preaching of St. Paul or the ranting of St. Jerome.
Did you know that St. Francis de Sales had such a massive temper that after his death, they found GROOVES under his writing desk, where he took out his frustrations by scratching the underside repeatedly in effort to control his anger?
And yet, we read his writings, all of which are so gentle and wise. We are led to believe that he was always calm, recollected, and no, not ever angry.
No, St. Francis de Sales was a human being like the rest of us, and he got annoyed. Without looking at who he was as a human being, we divorce his writings from him as though they could stand alone and be enough. The truth is that St. Francis de Sales, as well as other Saints, wrote from experience, they wrote through their temptations, and they wrote in such a way so as to preach holiness to themselves as well as to others. They were not separate from their spiritual direction; they lived it, too.
It was actually a consolation to me today to reflect upon the humanity of the Saints.
Often I read about liturgical abuses or other things that set people off, and there are always a few jokers in the various com-boxes who suggest there is something wrong with the person who is annoyed. Maybe that's true; we are all sinners, and we do often let our annoyances turn into some kind of personal sin.
I think more often, though, the opposite of that criticism is true: there's something missing in a human who refuses to be annoyed, for they are repressing their own humanity in a false understanding of what it means to be holy.
It is not a sin to be annoyed or irritated. It would qualify as a passion, I think. It's not anger, but can lead to anger, and anger alone is not a sin. The emotion of annoyance or irritation is simply that: something that tells us something is wrong. Compare it to a bug bite: when we are bitten, we are tempted to scratch at it because it itches! It can be really awful, and so we think about that bite and ponder it and feel that itch and then scratch and scratch until it finally bleeds, and maybe we keep scratching even THEN. And then it might get infected.
Or... we could just feel the annoyance, realize it's there and there's nothing we can do about it, or maybe spray a little Benadryl on it to control the histamine reaction. The bug bite is still there, but we've chosen a different way to handle it.
See the difference? Annoyance is nothing more than a spiritual bug bite. We can zap it by embracing it with virtue or we can scratch at it and let it get infected. The latter is a sin. The former turns it into a path to holiness.
At Mass today, I hold that I was right to be annoyed: by people talking loudly when they should have been observing silence out of respect to others, annoyed by people claiming they hate children (loudly), annoyed by bad theology. If we aren't annoyed by those things, then we are completely unaware of what Mass is about. That's a problem. Annoyance is actually a gift from God. It is what we DO with annoyance that makes a difference.
We will all struggle with that for our entire lives. Mass equips us through the Sacraments and through the experience of other people who are fallen just like us.
It is important to learn from the Saints: how did THEY handle things that bothered them, rightly or not?
When we take a look at their writings and biographies, we witness that they sought to overcome their annoyances through practicing the Virtues. They practiced patience by not turning around and slapping offenders who mouthed off in church. They practiced fortitude by being patient throughout the Mass. They considered how much God loves even the most annoying among us. They resolved to love children and their haters more in order to overcome hatred in themselves. When confronted with bad theology, they sought to educate others so that they would know the Truth about God.
The Saints struggled just as we do. That doesn't mean they weren't holy: it means they learned how to handle annoyance and not allow it to degenerate into sin. They didn't entertain it, but tried to let it change their hearts, not to a position of denial, but as a revelation of Truth and Divine Charity.
St. Catherine of Siena wrote in her "Dialogue" that we obtain every virtue through other people. She knew this well: she was annoyed sometimes, too. She was highly annoyed by the Pope during the Avignon captivity and called him to conversion, and back to Rome in no uncertain terms.
Let us all learn to handle annoyance by following the example of the Saints. We should not fear annoyance, but embrace it and allow it to change our hearts so that we might grow in faith, hope, and charity.
May God grant us all the grace to become Saints through the annoyances in our lives.