We at WIT get a lot of trolls.

There’s just something about a group of young women talking about God that really seems to get people all riled up.

Come, stroll with me down Troll Lane. There was the person who said, “You give good reason s why women need to be silent.” I can recall the lovely gentleman who told us, “you should not be called Wit you should be called witch women in theology creating Heresy.” There was the man who proclaimed us “under mortal sin, clearly” and the woman who called us “fringe wackos.” I could go on but I think you get the picture.

I must admit that being subjected to hateful, vitriolic, and occasionally un-hinged comments can get to me. I have felt tempted to slur back–anything to make my interlocutor feel what she has made me feel. And anyone who glances through the comments I have left on this blog will have no problem finding evidence of times I have lost my cool. I know I have said things I wish I hadn’t.

But these unpleasant visitations do not always end so poorly. Sometimes, as I learned tonight, they can inspire in us a fresh appreciation for forgotten beauty or push us in the direction of unexpected theological insights. Grace does not always look like we think it should. Today, a woman I can know only by the name of Mary left me the following response to an old essay of mine entitled “Jesus Was Not A Bully; The Ambo Is Not A Bully Pulpit.”

wow. I attend this parish as well but was not at that Mass. I know the family this happened to and I have to tell you….they are very clueless about how to behave at Mass. They are a sweet, loving family, but they have always created a day-care center in their pew. Large, loud toys that land repeatedly with a loud crash when dropped, multiple snack and drink options for the babies. I have always been completely dumbfounded at their complete ignorance of how to behave respectfully at Mass. If they were the least bit interested in teaching their children even the most basic principles of our faith, they would begin with a sense of reverence and awe for the Eucharist – Jesus Christ truly present, miraculously at every Mass. There is NEVER any reason to bring food to church for children. They play for hours without eating. One hour at Mass is not going to kill them. I can’t even imagine for one second why anyone would bring TOYS to Mass! What the heck? It’s families like these that push our good and holy priests to going insane. Stop acting like a bunch of idiots and do the right thing: teach your friend/ fellow parishioner how to properly behave at Mass. By the way, the originator of this post comes to Mass dressed like she’s going to a bar. That makes me sick. It makes sense that she doesn’t have the first clue how to behave at Mass when she can’t even dress respectfully. If any of you want to be a Christian, start with showing us that you have a deep respect for the house of God. Was it not Jesus who produced a whip to teach this lesson in the gospels?

At first, I felt nothing but anger. Then I felt hurt. Then I felt angry again. But now I feel only gratitude. The process of responding to Mary changed me. To her, I said:

Well, considering that the social and public consumption of alcohol set to music comprises the climax of the mass, I guess dressing like I’m headed to a bar is appropriate. And since the consumption of fleshly food also comprises the other part of the mass’s eucharistic climax, I can think of nothing more appropriate for children to do during the mass than to eat. It’s not their fault they are excluded from participating in the communal feast. If anything, munching on cheerios provides an expert apprenticeship in how to participate in the Eucharist. Eucharist means “giving thanks;” we Catholics give thanks to God by eating. I honestly feel bad for you that you lack the theological imagination to perceive their activities as a song of praise to God.

I meant only to be witty; I stumbled upon something beautiful. What wonderful images of the mass: should we not come to the Eucharist as we come to a bar, seeking boisterous, embodied, social congress? Should we not also consume the Eucharist like young children chomping on Cheerios? The snacking of children reminds us that the Eucharist is true food. As such, it is mysterious precisely by being so mundane; it is holy precisely because it is so bodily, so saintly because anyone can do it.

We give thanks to God by eating, an activity that is not just thoroughly human but ordinarily animal. We become one with Jesus by doing something that even dogs and apes and squirrels do, eating. We become Christ-like by exercising not those faculties that distinguish us from other animals but those that we share in common with them.

Even her quip about getting sick makes sense when we are talking about a feast. Eating incorrectly and against the grain of our nature can easily cause us to vomit.  In this same way, perhaps vomiting provides a perfect metaphor for what it feels like when our body finds the body of Christ intolerable.

May I learn to speak more civilly, even on the Internet.

But I am not so sure that we need good manners to sit at the Eucharistic table.

8 thoughts

  1. Delicious post.
    Of course, here in the UK “Cheerio” has the added, informal, pleasant meaning of “Good bye”. Thus, perhaps: “Cheerio! Ite, missa est!”

  2. A profound and creative response; I think you have definitely stumbled on something beautiful.

    I couldn’t disagree more with the priest’s actions and with Mary’s opinion, and it makes me initially furious (probably later sad) that there are people in our churches thinking these thoughts, which seem so opposite to Jesus’.

    It’s a fragile reverence that can be distracted by kids being kids or people dressing according to a different subculture’s standards. Sure, kids can go an hour without eating, but far more are adults capable of revering Jesus despite distractions, or – if not – finding another, more silent and childless, mass to attend. It’s a sad truth about the church that even if toddlers were capable of picking and choosing any mass to attend, they would find it harder to find a mass free of attitudes like Mary’s than Mary would find it to find a mass free of distractions like theirs.

    I hate to think how distracted Mary would have been in the embodied presence of Jesus by the children he welcomed and the dress of the friends he sought out; possibly too distracted to respect what he presented as the basic principles of our faith. Jesus didn’t start with reverence and awe, or even demand it of anyone, but instead demanded welcome to children and various people who no doubt dressed like they were in bars or ‘worse.’ He let reverence/awe happen as a spontaneous response to who he is and his goodness (including his radical hospitality to those his disciples wanted to send away).

    Reverence is a complex virtue (its compatibility with Jesus’ radical welcome still more complex), and these kids can and will learn it when they’re older, so long as they’re not alienated from church now; I hate to think how their young minds interpreted the priest’s censure or the lessons they’ll take from it in later life. While they’re so young, demands for silence and deprivation of food and toys in the name of reverence/awe can only be perceived as an arbitrary demand for silence and somberness that contradicts the more basic principle of Jesus’ radical welcome, let alone any sense of Eucharist as celebration.

    Also, I hardly think children being children in Christ’s presence, no matter how loudly, are equivalent to adults commercializing worship of God, exploiting the poor and placing barriers to entry in the court of the Gentiles – in fact if we’re talking about barriers to entry I’m sure it’s the priest who would provoke Christ’s ire.

    Would you be OK with me saying the above to Mary on the original blog? (I thought I’d check since you’re the host).

  3. This morning I read this passage from Isaiah and smiled; it is one of my favorites, making me think of a sumptuous feast – the Eucharist.

    “On this mountain* the LORD of hosts

    will provide for all peoples

    A feast of rich food and choice wines,

    juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”

    JUICY, rich food – don’t you love that? I imagine an almost bacchanalian event!

    Reverence without joy can be like a dry bone, turning to dust. And didn’t Christ tell us to “suffer the children?” And that we should be more like little children? And I don’t know about you Katie, or others, but I also worry about how over-reverence (as I would never suggest a lack of reverence) of the nature represented here borders on the kind of hyper-individualism that means we each are focused on Christ, but never one another! I wonder if commenter Mary can see Christ in that family. I know I’m trying to see Christ in her.

    That children are present at mass, and joyful as well, is an annoyance to some and a delight to others. It is difficult for me to imagine God in the company of the former and not the latter, but what do I know? All I know is that the food will be juicy and rich! Let us celebrate! As Kim Fabricus so aptly said above – “Cheerio! Ite, missa est!” What happens in the church helps us to bring the feast outward and onward. May it be so!

  4. Yes, great post Katie. I liked your final sentence especially. Too many churches have too few children attending so welcome, little ones.

  5. Oh Katie, May God surround you with his love and comfort. What Mary said was just awful. Thank God not every church is filled with joyless people like her.

  6. The troll who said “You give good reason s why women need to be silent” may be referring to 1 Timothy 2:11 or 1 Corinthians 14:34, which seem to say exactly that. What is your opinion of those passages? I looked through many of your blog posts, but I couldn’t find one about these verses.

    I’m an atheist who’s trying to understand Christian perspectives as well as I can (I’m summarizing the Bible on my blog), so I’m very curious about what (mostly feminist) female theologians have to say about the clobber passages. Thanks for any help!

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