Difficult People

Article excerpt

One morning, the phone rang. Before the person answering could utter a greeting, the man on the other end began to yell: "I want somebody to tell me what the #!*^ is going on! Why are these #!*^ priests changing all the words in the Mass? I've been going to Mass for sixty-two years, and most of it every day of the week too, and now they decide to change my prayers. I've been a member of St. Neighbor's all my life and . . ."

The listener had a choice to make. She could remind the man that his behavior was unacceptable and hang up on him; she could defend the Church's revisions in the Mass texts, which might require yelling over his monologue; or she could sit in silence, listen, and wait until the man ran out of steam.

She chose the latter. Some of his rage revealed more about who he was. He sounded like an elderly man; information about his many years in the Church reinforced that. He was angry, but she had learned that anger, generally, is a symptom. The root of the issue is usually fear. What did the man fear? As she listened, she heard about his wife, now dead, who prayed all those Mass prayers with him-"and she knew them by heart, too!" he shouted.

She took notes on what the man said, not to refute him but to prove to him, once he grew quiet, that she heard what he said. After almost ten minutes of raging, the man slowed down. "So, there you are," he concluded. "I'm mad, I tell you, and I want you to tell the bishop to tell the Pope to stop this nonsense!"

She took the opportunity to turn two strangers into friends. "Sir," the woman said, "I have been listening to you speak for ten minutes, and I haven't had the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Mary Smith. Who am I speaking to?"

There was silence, then: "I'm George."

"Glad to meet you, George. As I listened to you, I heard you say . . . ." From the note pad in front of her, she repeated some of the lines George had shouted into the phone. "Did I hear you correctly, George?"

"Well, yes, I said that." There was a pause, and then: "By golly, you're the first person who has listened to me!" She invited George to tell her about his parish and the life he and his wife shared there. Did they have children? Grandchildren? She gleaned the wealth of his faithful life in the Church from the conversation and highlighted it for George.

"You know George, all us Catholics are in the same boat, aren't we?" George wanted to know what she meant. "I've been praying these prayers for forty years-less than you-but they are dear to my heart, too. Now our leaders are guiding us to make some different arrangements for that boat we're in. I think I can do that. But right now, I am concerned about the next generation, aren't you?" He was. "The way you and I talk about the Church, the words at Mass, Church leaders-all this will affect how our grandchildren view the Church, right? I mean, if we talk about the Church negatively in front of them, will they want to be part of it?" The two talked about the future of the Church and the daily influence they had on the attitude of the next generation of Catholics. …