Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, the priests at my parish celebrate mass in the Extraordinary Form. Which is great, you know, because if I happen to be there on those evenings, I get to feel morally superior and well-educated, because I know when to sit and kneel down and stand up and genuflect and bow and cross myself and beat myself. And I know Latin. And I have a missal. So that adds up to what? 8 gold stars? Let’s keep it to a modest 7, since kneeling and genuflecting are kind of the same thing.
Thirty seconds before communion, the priest holds up the host, and I get excited to say the Domine non sum dignus prayer because I like the way Latin sounds, and I like the fact that I know that prayer, and can rattle it off without even thinking, while the uneducated plebe at the end of the pew is hopelessly lost even when he tries to read along.
And then, disaster strikes.
The guy 6 pews ahead on my right starts thumping his chest with notable abandon, and reciting the prayer with deafening volume, conspicuous speed, and deadly accuracy. And. my. goad. rises. Who the hell does he think he is? What a moron. What a self-righteous dweeb. Get over yourself already, dude.
Enter Brideshead Revisited. (Let’s be honest; when does it not enter?) “When people hate with all that energy, it is something in themselves they are hating.”
We all just came back from Christmas, right? Family. Oh yes. Our families. There is nothing we dislike so much as seeing our own faults writ large. There is nothing so troubling as seeing our own weaknesses bared, out on display, raw and fractious and ready for a fight. And there is nowhere that the elements for such titanic disaster align so perfectly as at a large family gathering. The thing about families is, they share the bad traits as well as the good ones. Parents love it when their children look like them; it makes them feel proud, like they’ve left a mark on the world, and reminds them that they’re immortal and powerful (I helped create that child!). And guess what else? Even if they fail to realize it, as often they do, parents are particularly harsh with those children who most perpetuate their own faults. We do hate to be reminded of our shortcomings and failures (I helped spawn that thieving hooligan! Or, you know, whatever it is you’ve been spawning lately.).
So, here I am to preach at you. You see, after all, what with my 7 gold stars and everything, that’s what I’m qualified to do. Next time you feel like throttling somebody, chucking your substantial missal across 6 pews to knock the holy-roller off his kneeler, walloping the 6 year old or the 16 year old, badmouthing the boss or belittling your brother, take a breather. Think of the ways you’re like that idiot, and realize what it is you’re actually hating.