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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The War in Heaven on Earth

The comments section is abuzz with comments and questions about Lent. And my attitude. We have much to discuss, but first, a little catching up on some unanswered issues.

I was just elected to a 3-year term on our church's vestry. I now find myself caught between 2 people who think I am on their "side". Honestly, I didn't realize there were sides! I am at peace with everyone in our (small) parish. One of the people is always telling me things about the others that I don't need to know and asking me to go to other members of the vestry and do something about her personal issues with certain other members and complaints about parishioners. I don't like gossip, and definitely don't want to "take up another's offense". I am about ready to resign already! Surely there must be quite a few Saints I could go to with all the personalities in our rich church history. Which is the best match? Thank you so very much.

I've actually talked about some of this before. My basic premise is: if you can't even get along at church, how in the world do you expect to fit together in Heaven? Another War in Heaven may be unavoidable.

It's always a delicate matter how to go about telling people who need to be told, "Shut up and go sit down" to shut up and go sit down in a loving manner. A careful reading of your question, however, indicates that we are really not talking about 'people' here. We are talking about one person.

(Although, we know how it works at any parish. Should you be so adept and fortunate as to skirt this person, there will be a new one waiting in the vestibule to take his/her place.)

At my mother's parish, we have never resolved the issue of the organist. The elderly parishoners feel the organist plays much too loudly. This leads to judging the organist as an arrogant egomaniac who spends the Mass "showing off". My own father, rest his soul, offered to kick the plug on the thing, as the handicapped seating was right next to the plug. He couldn't walk very well, but he could still move his legs enough to threaten to kick the plug.

Heavenly peace, indeed.

My advice is to:

1. Take a deep breath and channel Abraham Lincoln, who may or may not have actually said, "You can't please all the people all the time." I think he may or not have actually said "fool" all the people all the time. But the point is, of all the things you can't do to all the people all the time, pleasing them is at the top of the list.

2. Find an area of compassion. For example, you surely must be able to sympathize with the fact that when a new person takes charge, everyone has high hopes that whatever it is that has been bugging them will finally be addressed. She has pinned her hopes on you, you poor thing.

3. Listen past the gossip and see if there is an actual problem that can be addressed or resolved. Sometimes, deep down, people do understand that some problems can't be solved. I think the organ at my mother's church is already as unloud as it can be. It's a big echoey church with an organ playing. There is no "soft". My point is that sometimes people only need to be heard, even if the answer is, "we can't help that."

There is a great tool you can use for this little exchange. Repeat what the person has said to you (sans judgement and gossip). This lets them know you did listen.

Parishoner: That organist is such an arrogant egomaniac pounding away on that thing! Can't you tell him to turn it down! My husband is going to fall out of his wheel chair trying to kick the plug one of these days!

You: You feel the organ is much too loud. I'll see if there is anything we can do to soften it.


You: I spoke with both the organist and the organ company and unfortunately they have both shown me that the organ is set as softly as it will go. It's very loud in this echoey old church. Maybe you'd be happier if we switched to a guitar Mass or liturgical dance.

You shouldn't say that last part about the guitar Mass or the liturgical dance. You should only think that to retain your own sense of humor and your sanity.

I know you'd like to tell her to shut her soup hatch when she starts gossiping and judging, but I suggest that for now you just mentally close your ears and hum to see if you can wade through to the actual issue. Unless, of course the actual issue is the sinful behavior of others. Then you're going to have to tell her it's not your department. That's God's department. She'll have to go straight to the top and pray for the other person.

I don't expect my advice to help very much in the long run, to solve the issues in your parish. But it might help you out a little. Meanwhile, of course, I recommend St. Therese the Little Flower, the patron saint of people who are annoyed by the annoying habits of others. You will free many souls from Purgatory during your three year sentence...I mean....stint.


Claudia said...

I think the two busybodies have to much time on their hands. A new project involving volunteering in the community should give them things to do besides gossiping.

Nell said...

Thank you for answering my question, Sister. I will definitely go to St. Therese with this one.

Claudia, I am very involved in charity work at home and at church, and we can't get either lady to come to our guild meetings. :( One isn't crafty, and the other complains about the meeting time.

Donna. W said...

I'm just happy to learn that there are Catholic busybodies, just like there are protestant busybodies. We're all human! That's why we need Jesus.

Katney said...

Oh, I so understand this situation. It's communication, and I have ended up in the middle of some of it. "I was so glad to see you and your husband helping A with that task. None of the other Bs have ever helped with it." says an A person. Says a B person on another occasion, "The A group doesn't want the Bs to have anything to do with that task. They always say they will do it, but then it doesn't get done." Do these people talk to each other??

In the meantime, I have a question about covering the statues at the end of Lent. I used to know when this was done. Way back int he day, it was done for Passion Sunday--which was a week before Palm Sunday, and they were left covered until, I think, the Easter Vigil. (I remember ushers with poles picking purple drapings off of statues.) In the meantime, I can't figure out when it has to be done in the current Liturgical calendar. And we have to make new drapings for our sister parish because theirs have fallen all to pieces, so I need to know when they have to be done.

Claudia said...

Really, sorry to hear they won't join any group. There are just some people who are chronic malcontents. I have no idea how to handle them...

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Nun of a Kind! said...

Too funny and too true, particularly the fact that if you can't get along in church, then where can you get along? My sentiments exactly. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Earth to Sister Mary Martha! Where are you hiding? We've been waiting for a post for well over a week now...

Sister Mary Margaret

Anonymous said...

My Kindle is having withdrawls! No updates from our favorite Sister in almost 2 weeks.
Is there a Saint we should call upon, to insure the well being of Sister Mary Martha and the continuation of her blog?!


Mark from Iowa said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha,

I'm writing is to tell you how much I love your spirit. You've no idea how much I've learned from your archives during this past week!

I do hope and pray all is well with you and look forward to your next post.

With warm regards from your protestant acquaintance in Iowa,

- Markus