Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Shepherd's Staff
I have heard the explanation for the shape of a bishop's staff. It has a curved end to hook around things (namely, sheep) in order to draw them back, and a pointed end in order to prod and push away. Now, as a parish pastor, I don't literally have a shepherd's staff, but I am a shepherd and so "hook end" and "pointed end" functions are fulfilled by my words and actions, most especially in the three-fold ministry of teaching, sanctifying, and governing.

It felt as if the Lord was giving me plenty of opportunities to use both ends of our metaphorical staff this Sunday. I was hearing confessions in the back sacristy during one of the Masses today. I wasn't getting many visitors, so I began to notice all the traffic in the back of church: kids running about, back and forth, without parental guidance. In particular, I saw two teenagers in the back foyer or narthex area move toward the exit doors. They had already been hanging around in the back and so I became immediately suspicious of what was going on. They piously made the sign of the cross and then walked out of church. So, I left my confessional post, ever so briefly, to methodically walk around outside. As I suspected, I found the two girls on the side of the church, chatting. I asked them if they were supposed to be attending Mass. They answered yes. I told them to get inside and sit with their families. I also told them they need to go to confession for skipping out on Jesus. As we walked back to the church, I asked them which year of confirmation preparation they were in (we have two years in this diocese). They answered, "First year." I told them, as I had already explained before, that the Holy Mass is the foundation of all we do in the faith and in preparation for other Sacraments. "If you are not attending Mass, you will not be confirmed," I said. They walked back inside. Before I could get back in, a lady stopped me with a question. I then walked inside only to find the same two girls now sitting in the foyer area, chatting, with Mass going on the other side of the foyer wall. I had had it! I walked up to them and I said, "What are you doing out here? Mass is in THERE (pointing to the body of the church). I was nice the first time. Now get in there. If I see you out here again, you will not be confirmed." Likewise, I later found a young fifth grader wandering around outside and eating candy. He said his parents were inside but he didn't want to be there. I began to quiz him, since he had books in his hand from RE class, about whether he was preparing for a Sacrament this year, if he had been baptized, etc. He didn't know what a Sacrament is, what Mass is, or what Baptism is. So, I took his name and phone number, told him to get inside, throw out his candy and tell his parents they were to see me before they departed from Mass. They did and I told them they should be responsible to see their children grow in the faith and to watch over them -- this kid was wandering around outside totally unsupervised.

In the midst of all this, clearly rather flustered, I noticed a van parked directly outside the entrance to the church. A medallion of the Blessed Virgin Mary was hanging from the rear view mirror and, suction-cupped on the center of the windshield was the small shape of a nude woman (you know those kind you see in silver on the mud flaps of semi-trucks) designed to shake back and forth as the car moves. I couldn't believe it. So, yours truly took out a piece of paper and wrote the following message, sticking the paper under the windshield wiper:

What a shame and what a sin! A pornographic image of a nude woman placed on the glass together with the Virgin Mother of God. Get rid of it immediately. -- Fr. Hamilton

I don't want people to be mad at me. But some things need correcting and when your duty carries with it just such a responsibility, I firmly believe you had better do it or face punishment yourself.

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