Saturday, April 07, 2007

Brat in church?

Attended Good Friday service yesterday afternoon at Risen Christ. The church was packed so we had to go to the upper gallery. Our seats were right at the back. I had Gillian and Isaac only with me. I didn't think the babies would be able to keep still for the whole service, which, including the Stations, easily ran to 2 hours.

Sitting in front of me was a fat boy (I think he was about 8 or 9) and his mother. For the first half an hour, he behaved - standing, kneeling whenever indicated. But after a while he got bored. He started making faces, telling his mother it was boring, and finally, I guess to shut him up, she gave him her handphone.

He fiddled with it and played games. At least it was on silent mode. After a while, he didn't even bother standing/kneeling or participating - he just sat there and played handphone games. When he reached a certain score he would excitedly nudge his mother and show her. Once in a while, his mother would take the phone and look at the score, then return it to him for more playing. When the time came that even the handphone game no longer interested him, he started on his mother. He would leap upclose to her and make faces, talk etc. When she (and I'm guessing here) told him to behave, he made loud hissy exasperated sounds at her. And the woman took it all and did not seem to dare take him in hand. Perhaps she was afraid of making an even bigger scene.

I felt that perhaps the boy should have been prepped before the service. Told the significance, warned it would be long and that he should behave. Otherwise, stay home.

I wondered if perhaps they were not Catholics - they did not go for Communion. But they did venerate the Cross at the end. Either way, Catholic or not, it was discourteous and disrespectful behavior, even though he was not noisy. I wondered that his mother let him get away with it.

Then when I was feeling all self-righteous and disapprovy, I stopped and considered - what about myself? Christ said let the man who has never sinned throw the first stone... So who am I to talk? How much had I done to prep my kids? Yeah, they didn't play with handphones so blatantly. They were not rude to me. There was none of the usual elbowing or jostling with each other. They were quiet, respectful, stood, knelt and sat whenever appropriate.

But this was all external. Just form. No substance. Inside, they must have been thinking of other stuff. I don't think they were contemplating the Passion! I don't think they fully appreciated the importance of the day, of the service. Perhaps I am expecting too much from them? I know that not even all adult Catholics can fully understand or appreciate the ceremony. But some feeling at least? I felt that they were going through the motions, but there was nothing there.

If that is so, what makes them any different from the boy playing handphone games then? What makes me any different from his mother? I too, failed to prep my kids adequately.

And this is something I struggle with during every mass. How to 'make' them feel for God? Its not enough to just go to mass. Do they love Him? Have they met Him? Talked to Him? I bet not. They behave to please me, but that is not enough. Yeah they know the stories, they attend catechism, but faith and knowledge are not equivalent.

I know the answer why of course - my own 'Catholic-ness', my own faith, is not showing through. And if they have no example, can you blame them for not feeling? If I don't act or behave as if God is right there, as if He is real to me, how can I expect the kids to? They live and learn by example after all.

But maybe there's hope yet. At least, that's what the optimist in me is saying! I remembered as a child, I went through all the motions too. Just could not connect. There was no link between me and God. Church for me was this - a time to meet my friends, catch sight of the boy I was having a crush on and just something I had to do - an obligation. I napped during the homilies, went through all the motions, dutifully received Communion, tried to pray but never felt connected. The only thing I enjoyed was the singing. I sang with gusto. I still love singing! But I digress.

So yeah, I was a church-bot. I was in the YCS, in a Catholic school, had pious good Catholic friends who always looked like they had no trouble praying! They were connected - I was not! I had all the semblance of someone with a healthy religious life - but I wasn't. I remember feeling (and still do!) a sense of shame, as if it was just a big sham, that I was trying to be who I was not.

My roots were not strong. To cut a long story short, I questioned, rebelled, strayed, left, returned. Circuitous journey. Today, the mass has a great deal more significance and meaning than it ever did before. I still struggle to pray. I don't know what I am looking for - perhaps a lightning bolt from heaven to say: Yeah, alright already! I heard ya the first time!

My faith today is cyclic - there are days when I feel inspired, empowered, humbled. There are days when I feel... nothing. I wonder if everyone else feels like me. Or am I the odd one out - still a sham.

So when I think back on my journey and consider my kids - perhaps not all hope is gone. One can only keep believing, keep trying to educate/inspire them and hope that one day, in their own journeys, they will find God. Or God will find them. I have faith that it will work out.

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