Tuesday, August 18, 2015


A year or so ago, I wrote about a priest who, as I was about to take Communion, chastised me for being inappropriately dressed for Mass.

I took the incident, and will forever take it, as a splendid learning opportunity. He was right.

Now L.A. is in the midst of another heat wave, at least as severe as the one last year when the incident occurred.

Last week I attended 5:30 p.m. Mass at the same parish. The same guest priest said Mass.  The other parishioners were mostly women, many of whom appeared to be housekeepers, grandmothers, caretakers--at Mass after a long day at work, Some were shepherding small children. I recognized many faces of the daily faithful, both men and women, from the many times I'd attended Mass at the church over the years.  The temperature was 95. The sanctuary isn't air conditioned.  Many people frantically waved paper fans.

It was the memorial of St. Maximilian Kolbe and I'd made a special point to brave rush hour traffic and the heat after my own long day in order to honor him. It was the least I could do for a man who had offered himself up in place of a husband and father to starve to death in a bunker at Auschwitz, not to mention for Christ. I had on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

The priest's homily consisted of a 15-minute harangue berating us for dressing inappropriately at Mass. Scanning the crowd, I failed to spot so much as a bare arm. These were quietly patient old men in polo shirts and dress slacks, women in long cotton skirts and floral blouses, all of us wilting in the heat. I consider myself fairly hardy, but at one point I actually thought I might faint. On and on the priest droned (and how hot he must have been in his robes!) For the good of our souls, he told us. So we wouldn't go to hell. For the purity of Mary.

I thought, No wonder all my friends who attended Catholic school in the 50s and 60s left the Church.

I thought of a wonderful piece in this weeks's The Tidings about Fr. George Zabelka called "Catholic priest who blessed atomic bomb crews — and his conversion."

A couple of excerpts:

“ 'If a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful.' ”

"But in 1945 on Tinian Island in the South Pacific, where the atomic bomb group was based, planes took off around the clock, said Zabelka. 'Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands of children and civilians – and I said nothing.' "

" 'I was told the raids were necessary; told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters, especially by a public body like the American bishops, is a stamp of approval.""

“ 'Christians have been slaughtering each other, as well as non-Christians, for the past 1700 years, in large part because their priests, pastors and bishops have simply not told them that violence and homicide are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. ' ”

I thought of how Mary's purity includes purity--consistency--of thought and ethics and action. I thought, That's fine if you want to tell us to dress appropriately, but show us the spectrum of purity so we know what we're dressing appropriately for--and for whom. 

Remind us that Mary is the Mother of the Trinitarian God, who took on human flesh, came to earth, and turned the cosmos upside down by telling us: Love thine enemies. Remind us of how very very far our war economy, our buffoonish politics, and our culture of acquisition and violence are from the Kingdom of God. Show us  Mary at the foot of the Cross on which the Prince of Peace was nailed. Inspire us to lay down our lives for each other, and for the poor. 

Remind us that is what it looks like to be for life, for truth, for purity, for love across the board. Remind us that to follow Christ is to live in exile: not because we know to dress appropriately but because we serve a very different Master than the master of fear and bondage and peer pressure and spiritual "good marks" and empty practices unconnected to the human heart that hold sway both outside, and often very unfortunately inside, the Church. 

When Christ saw a crowd wilting in the heat, he took pity on them. He invited them to pony up what little food they had and then he performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

Before dismissing us, this priest felt called to berate us for another three or four minutes for our absymal lack of modesty. 

Afterward we said the prayer of St. Michael the Archangel.  

I dedicated it, in my heart, to Father.  



  1. Thanks for sharing this so openly…..That poor priest and even POORER congregation!
    Hopefully no one has been hurt by him too much, obviously he has some issues. We ALL do, but if we don't try to face them then we can really hurt each other. I sometimes wonder if we should report priest who behave that way and call them on it to another in authority. It's more grave when your in a position of power over others to hurt them so greatly like this priest is. It's sad because there are SO MANY wonderful holy priest out there too and it just makes the Church look awful. So sad.

    1. Well, we had a priest whose inordinate focus on what the girls and women wore (especially the teens and 20-somethings) got so aggravating, some people did talk to the bishop about it. I believe it was one of the reasons this priest was put on leave and transferred. There were other things going on, too (nothing actually scandalous, but a lot of questionable judgment). I'm happy to say that I know that the bishop listened well and respectfully to all those who vented to him about the priest's frequent harangues on "modesty." Obviously, others' mileage with other bishops may vary.

      I'm sorry we didn't speak up about it sooner. It turned out that this priest had more or less traumatized a cohort of the youth group for years with his extreme teachings to them about dating. He insisted that just about any contact whatsoever between boys and girls, any dating at all, anything short of that wretched notion of "courtship" promoted by certain fundamentalist protestants, was sin! sin! sin! The kids didn't want to tell their parents how uncomfortable they were, and the parents didn't know how severe the teachings became. In sum, I'd say that if you think maybe you're out of line criticizing a priest who acts like this, I think you should trust your gut more.

  2. And bless you for saying a quiet prayer for him, I think I would have blasted him and caused a scene! One of my issues can be anger for people who hurt others especially when they have a certain amount of authority and power over them. Anger is one of my issues and that's something I personally need to really keep in check. We all have something and we have to be so careful and on watch for what that is. I'll try to say a prayer for him too and all of us for that matter.

  3. "Our buffoonish politics" -- yes. And how! (Is it wrong of me to picture only one face as I read the phrase?)

    And as you rightly point out, when the politics aren't buffoonish, they're so frequently fratricidal.

    I don't know what I would have done, if anything, if confronted by a priest such as the one you describe. The likelihood of me being in an un-AC'd church on a 95-degree day is slim (so I applaud your endurance on more than one count!). I don't deal well with either heat or priests who make themselves obnoxious in their rigor. I"d probably (knowing me) fire off a barbed letter to the priest in question. Which wouldn't be good for the soul, mine or his.

  4. This priest might actually think women shouldn't be wearing pants or that they should be wearing veils or something. I guess he didn't even talk about the gospel of the day or St. Maximilian (who is my saint for this year).
    My brother was visiting a church in Albuquerque when he was asked to leave because he was wearing shorts. Khaki dress shorts with pockets and a belt, too. Mass wasn't being said, either.
    I've been to churches where women were not allowed to show bare arms. Gasp!
    I recall a story from the 1950s in New York where women resorted to wearing low necklines and receiving communion while kneeling at the altar rail to rebuff or challenge a prudish priest.

  5. Thanks for sharing this sad experience, Heather.

    I came to this site because I read parched and felt a kinship to you in your sobriety and in your Catholicism.

    One of the things that I particularly like about our faith is the ability to dress casually for daily Mass and for Saturday Mass.

    We have been doing this for 40 years, way before the days of casual Fridays.

    I find suits and ties to be an impediment to learning and worshipping (and to practicing law for that matter).

    I fastidiously avoid going to Sunday Mass (except rarely) is to not feel any overt need to dress up for Mass.

  6. The point of the piece wasn't even so much about how we dress at Mass but that that day, we were like sheep without a shepherd...I'm sure we'll all survive! And thanks, all, for weighing in.

  7. Isn't that a great pain? To feel as though you are without someone you can trust to guide you? It is terrifying.

  8. Well, to be honest, I missed your point. Oops.


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