Dear Father Mike,
I have a question that I was discussing with some of my parish friends. It seems that there are, from time to time, people who are not really very good Christians who continue to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion. Some of them are just unpleasant people who scowl and complain every time we see them. Some of these people are, according to good sources, known to frequent bars and participate in questionable activities around town. There are those, as we all to well know this past week, who only come to Mass on "special" days like Easter and Christmas. Then they take all the good seats, often the ones that everyone know is where someone else always sits. It is not that we mind guests, but we are more concerned about people who are supposed to be members, but give us a bad reputation by their actions and life styles.
I guess what I am asking is if there is anything I (we) can do? It is not fair that they have the same benefits as those of us who give so much to the Church. Sometimes I want to tell them they don't need to be here if they do not straighten themselves out. Is there any way for us to eliminate this problem so our Church can be a holy and relaxing place where we don't have to deal with disagreeable characters such as this? Your insights are most wanted.
Mr. and Mrs. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sometimes we just need to let people know they are not welcomed. Some of these people can really be a bad influence on our children and families. We have to get the message to them, and we can do that explicitly, with words. Some people are brave and brazen enough to do just that. They will walk right up to these characters and tell them that they should leave and not come back. Most of us are much too polite to take this approach. But there are ways to deal with this situation.
One thing you can do is just nod at them if they make eye contact with you. Don't smile or give them any mixed messages.
They need to know if they disgust you. Or you could talk in a slightly exaggerated voice so that they could "overhear" your concern about the children seeing drunks or loose women in Church. By all means, keep your kids close to your side. In fact, try to keep them on the opposite side of your body which is closest to the undesirable.
If your parish has the practice of letting people add prayers to the Prayer of the Faithful, you could pray for the specific sin or condition of those present who cause you concern. It may embarrass them, so do not get too specific, but do be firm in defining certain actions as displeasing to God. As you part ~~THIS IS IMPORTANT~~even though you may find it difficult to squelch your usual good natured response to others, DO NOT SMILE. Keep you eyes focused behind them or over their heads, or on someone else. If you can comfortably avoid it, do not offer your hand in the handshake.
If you get stuck in conversation with some of the, be sure to be polite, dispassionate, and quickly bring the conversation to an end. Keep eye contact to a minimum. You can excuse yourself to the restroom, "notice" a friend on the other side of the room/church, or look at your watch and say you have to go.
Beyond that, make sure to inform other well meaning (and often liberal) do-gooders that they should not try to make the others feel too comfortable. Nor should anyone personally invite them to parish activities.
Before long, the people in question will get the message. They will either stop coming, or they will feel so terrible and lonely that they will repent. Either way, the problem is solved.
Thanks for you important question. Many people have expressed similar concerns throughout my years as a priest.
P.S. OR YOU COULD:
1. LOVE THEM LIKE JESUS DOES!
2. ACCEPT THEM SHORTCOMINGS AND ALL, JUST AS THEY ARE LIKE JESUS DID WITH YOU.
3. OFFER THEM THE ARM OF FRIENDSHIP
4. PRAY FOR THEM THAT THEY MAY DRAW CLOSER TO GOD
5. LOOK FOR SIGNS OF GOODNESS IN THEM AND BUILD ON THAT
6. INVITE AND ENCOURAGE (DON'T NAG) THEM TO BECOME INVOLVED IN THE CHURCH
7. THANK GOD FOR THEM AND ASK FOR THE GRACE TO BE AN INSTRUMENT IN THEIR ONGOING CONVERSION
Perhaps the result will be conversion! Presto-Changeo! Now saved, not sinners!
Who knows, you might find yourself getting a little closer to God in the process.