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We Are Different Than Butterflies

June 9, AD2017

I walked out of the church after Mass, through the small courtyard towards the parking lot. In that staggered line of people, I happened to be directly behind a young girl and her mother. The older lady could have been her grandmother because the young girl was probably in her early teens. I’ll call her the mother, which I am sure would be well received by her.

The young girl was holding her mother’s hand, as she did while making her way to and from the Eucharist during Holy Communion. I noticed the awkward way she walked. Twisting back and forth like you see in those who have had a major injury, or were born with a physical problem that causes us to notice them because of it – at least the first time you see them. But, from her facial features, I would say she probably has needed this mother’s help from birth and appeared to be blind or partially blind. They were dressed in matching tops and clean pressed simple pants.

I sometimes notice people at Mass and wonder what kind of life they live. I wonder what needs they have that would prompt them to ask for God’s grace. Like the slim, middle aged oriental man. Every Communion after receiving from Father, he walks to St. Joseph and lights some candles. Ours are electronic and lit by just tapping them, but they glow the same as real ones.  Tap, tap, tap, tap. Sometimes just tap, tap. He then continues on his way to his pew. I have seen him needing crutches to walk, but he still lights the candles.

After all, Mass and the sacraments are a time to immerse ourselves in Christ’s Church, to recognize our place in His Holy Body, to be grateful for the opportunity to forgive our inevitable sins, to join with our creator. The opportunity is accepted by the people I mentioned above to ask for what is most important in their lives – as do I.

We Walked Along

I held back as we walked, not wanting to squeeze by the girl and her mother on the narrow walk. I’m in no hurry anyway. This courtyard has a small grassy lawn and an arbor with a statue of the Blessed Mother. People often stop there and pray to Her.

Another young girl ahead of us stopped at the exit into the parking lot, as if she was waiting for someone. This young girl was blessed with apparent good health and actual youth that we sometimes look back on and ponder a time long ago when we were that young. This girl may have unseen difficulties in life that we can all imagine from our own experience or the experiences of those we know. We don’t know for sure what they might be.

What made this seemingly unremarkable little moment in my humble existence very important to me, is the way the healthy looking young girl was dressed. She was wearing shorts in contrast to the other people I saw on my way out of Church. Shorts in the summer in Church has become a common sight, if not numerous. Usually young girls, rarely young boys, never teen-aged boys. If considered proper for the young why not for adults? Why not for the clergy? Why can’t father perform his function in Bermuda shorts or Speedos, as well as in those colorful vestments? Is the only reason for a particular dress comfort and simplicity – a quick way to get ready to go somewhere?

“The Times They Are A-Changin”

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’. (Bob Dylan)

This degradation in dress for Mass over the years has no apparent opposition from the pulpit. I guess it is part of the way custom has moved over the years. From presenting a cared-for appearance to God while worshiping Him, to gathering together for a family celebration and meal. An imitation of the American Thanksgiving where many people embarrassingly thank an unnamed entity for all the standard good things, gorge themselves, then watch football. Why spend time dressing up? Stay dressed-down, as you found yourself when you woke up that morning. The food, the company (not always), and the T.V. are the important things.

People Are Different Than Butterflies

Animals groom themselves instinctively. Some, like butterflies, need no special care to look beautiful, and it is easy for us to recognize that natural beauty.

We, on the other hand, to enhance the beauty of our soul, tend to dress appropriately for occasions. The beach requires a swimsuit of some kind, if not for swimming then for sunbathing. Shorts will do. To dress there in a business suit or an evening dress would be very strange, and impractical. Some beaches in crazy land allow no suit at all, to the shock of my sensibility when presented with what briefly appeared to be from afar a large group of Zalophus californianus, turned out to be Homo sapiens. An honest mistake due to the similarity of body shapes in that instance.

At the Mall, teens and young adults wear shorts, torn blue jeans, or other casual clothing. But, you can be sure that their hair is carefully groomed, and for girls makeup is applied. Older men my age, who should know better, come in jeans and T-shirts.

When people come to Mass in jeans, shorts, flip-flops, T-shirts with large lettered messages that have nothing to do with faith, I don’t wonder if these people are able to afford better clothing, I wonder why they don’t dress up a bit. I wonder why the parents of teens dressed as if they wished they were at the mall, don’t insist on better behavior.

This is God

God, your maker, the creator of everything, is whom you are approaching. Would you appear at the White House dressed that casually? Those who would say yes to that question currently because of political reasons, I would guess would not say yes if the last president was receiving them. How about an honorary dinner, to be on television, a first date, a second date, as a prom date, your wedding, an anniversary dinner, to have your portrait taken, any gathering of persons for an important special reason.

The Great Depression is well behind us. A time when food and shelter were the main concerns of millions and clothing was a lesser one. I can remember a time just after the start of the recovery from that time, seeing a family of classmates in grade school with no shoes. The quality of clothing was less obvious to my age group than the absence of clothes. A sight probably not experienced in today’s America. Even then, people washed and mended, they did what they could to improve their appearance and well-being. The wider experience of poverty provided a standard for what was possible, just as plenty does today.

If we have reached a time when imitating a Zalophus californianus is our goal, then we have made no progress towards understanding the failure of the first try at imitation that our species made in Genesis 3: “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…””

We are God’s people. When we show an obvious disinterest in making the occasion of Mass a little more special than going to a Justin Bieber concert, then are we really aware of what we owe Him?

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

H.L. Duncan is a senior citizen widower in his 8th decade of life (70s) who was married for 36 years to his only wife Jill. He lives on 40 acres of the Great Basin Desert in an owner built solar powered home. He has three children who have left the nest and are now too far away. After an Episcopalian childhood, his teen years brought on the disease of agnosticism with occasional bouts of atheism. He entered the Church in 2010 and says he has felt at home ever since. His working life included Forest Fire Truck Driver, Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa building schools, Motion Picture Cameraman in industrial films and while in the U.S. Army, production assistant to a Producer in Hollywood, Professional Still Photographer, Photo Lab Technician, Postal Service Letter Carrier, Computer Systems Analyst in business and government, Computer Consulting, Owner of an Internet business, Web site creation. His educational background is mostly self directed reading and experiential but does include; A graduate of the London School of Film Technique, London, England, AA degree in Business Data Processing with an additional course in accounting, Seminars and technical classes. He now spends his days in local parish church work and Right to Life groups, Internet conversations with new friends and old enemies of the Church.

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  • Mark McCann

    I left a comment on Facebook about the article. I didn’t think it amounted to some of what others have said. As far as i’m concerned, I’m torn about the issue. I cited James 2 on the Facebook post, but at the same time,i have always tried to give God my best. If I can dress up for dinner I can dress up for Jesus. Still, having worked with young people for years, i can say I cared more for their spiritual clothing than what they were wearing, as many Masses took place at retreats in the summer. I think it’s okay for us to express our thoughts on these issues, as long as we remember we’re all on the same team…but I may just happen to dress better than some people and some people may be clothed with “more” righteous than I am. (){;oD

    • The issue has many possibilities. Some will mistake my thoughts as a desire to dictate a dress code. I only reflect back what is socially acceptable or unacceptable in our society. The way one dresses is a reflection of an attitude and/or condition at the time and of the times.

      A strong reaction indicates to me more than a reluctance to conform to generalized social norms regarding dress. Although, I doubt that this rebellion extends to times when it might affect personal relationships.

      To comment on dress is not to eliminate thoughts about righteousness. It does not mean that we must choose between dress and “spiritual clothing”. It is one aspect of our daily life, and a way we relate to each other. We present ourselves to each other. We smile or do not. We reply or turn away.

      I agree that casual dress might be appropriate for a retreat Mass, or a Mass that takes place at College between classes. There are many socially acceptable situations. However, a Sunday Mass attended by a early-teen girl wearing shorts (I have seen this many times) had better have a good excuse for showing this kind of disrespect for our Lord.

      I am sure people can find other ways He is disrespected. Probably worse ways.This is just one way.

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  • Larry Bud

    What a devious article this is. It starts out respectfully, with kind (albeit nosy and speculative) observations about your fellow parishioners. And then it zig-zags harshly to the far right, and becomes a whining about how people dress.

    I am so incredibly tired of these kinds of articles. The usual complaining and counter-complaining will ensue, leaving all participants angry and resentful, accomplishing absolutely nothing.

    Did you make any attempt to say hello to any of the folks you mention? Even eye contact and a friendly nod? I’m guessing not.

    Lately, I’ve taken to saying that if someone should ever approach me to comment on how I’m dressed for mass (usually, in dress shorts and a golf shirt which is altogether proper for the desert city where I live), I’d be torn between a) being resentful that a stranger would care how another stranger is dressed, above all else… and b) being a little giddy that someone – anyone – chose to speak to me at all, because usually, the only ones who do are the greeters whose “job” is to do so… unless they are conversing with one of their actual friends, in which case I get no hello, no eye contact, and probably have to open the church door for myself.

    Try being more friendly and less judgmental. It will be beneficial for all.

    • Eddie

      Excellent point and one that I have been trying to make for years now. Catholic parishes are cold and very unfriendly. Your comment is worthy of an essay in and of itself. Glad I’m not the only person who feels this way. God bless.

    • Laurence Charles Ringo

      Seriously!? What is WRONG with you people?? If it’s true that…”man looks on the outward appearance, I God looks on the heart”…,what is He seeing in you guys’ hearts??? WOW.Just…WOW!! 😣😣.

    • Padre

      Do you realize how cold and judgmental your post appears – like Mr Bud’s? Why?

      The cold, direct, factual method of presentation you mention some people function by – yes, this needs other virtues more often than not but not always – the Beloved is often this way – “Get behind me satan”: I am certain Peter did not think this especially warm and friendly.

      The absence of the certain necessary virtues at times does not make someone’s point wrong – just a bad presentation or witness….but I am sure we can be more Christ-like and work and having the same mind and heart as the Beloved….giving with reverence the reason for our hope!

      Here in the anniversary year of Our Lord’s Mother being sent to Fatima we should recall the words Mary shared with us – “Fashions greatly offend the Beloved already”. Its been about 100 yrs and fashion/culture reveal a lot more now than then. And meditating with humility, docility and thanksgiving on how the Angel of Portugal and Peace Taught Lucia, Francesco and Jancinta to be holy and kneel and bow the forehead to the ground in the Trinitarian Presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, how this intense supernatural glory to God compelled them to such reverence and remained with them for days, only slowly going away, we really know we should dress in body and soul with every virtue to love and glorify the Beloved Trinity-Lamb [see link below]!

      The Holy Mass is the Marriage Feast of Our Divine Bridegrooom – we should dress as we dressed for our Marriage and come to sacramental oneness with our Bridegroom with chastely, modesty, pure clothing of virtue in body and soul – yes, in purity exalting our body and souls at Living Temples and Tabernacles of the Trinity-Lamb! We see this in the Catechism, when it shares:

      1387 To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest…shorts, etc, do not do this….before the Beloved we all know this so let us ‘worship in holy attire’ as the Lord shares in His Word (God the Holy Spirit through the Psalmist):

      Worship the LORD in holy attire; Tremble before Him. Enter, let us kneel before the LORD who made us; let us bow down in worship.

      https://www.ewtn.com/fatima/third-apparition-of-the-angel.asp

      https://www.ewtn.com/fatima/first-apparition-of-the-angel.asp
      https://www.ewtn.com/fatima/second-apparition-of-the-angel.asp

      When we dress like adam and eve, how did the Lord re-dress them, for their being and being in His Presence???

      The Blessings of the Holiness of the Beloved through Our Mother Mary of Fatima!!

    • I’m sure you would dress up for your daughters wedding, but of course, not for Jesus.

    • Larry Bud

      Well you know Mr. Edwards, I don’t have a daughter, because I’ve never met or dated any Catholic women, because I never got introduced to any, because as Eddie notes, Catholic parishes quit acting like “community” about two generations ago and became markedly cold and very unfriendly (his words).

      Thanks for reminding me about all of that. I stand behind my previous comment.

    • You understand my point fully. Jesus is in the Eucharist and you choose to dress as if your walking through your living room.

    • Larry Bud

      And I’m sure you understand that arguing this point with all the usual analogies to “beach wear” and so forth (yes, I’ve read plenty of these arguments) is futile and accomplishes nothing.

    • Ronky

      Larry I suggest your parish is very unusual. I’ve been a regular at many parishes in many different areas, and a visitor at many more, and without exception they all had “parish mixers” or the like organised very frequently. It would be very rare to find a parish weekly bulletin with no such occasion mentioned.

      I suggest further that if you want to have a conversation with someone before or after Mass, you try initiating it instead of expecting everyone else to make the first move.

      Lastly it’s drawing an extremely long bow to suggest that your apparently unhappliy single status is solely due to people in your parish not being talkative enough to you. Is that seriously the only way you can think of to meet a Catholic lady who might be a suitable wife?

    • Fight for Brant

      Why are you waiting for the parish to announce a mixer? When I saw people my age (mid 20s) all sitting by themselves, I suggested to my priest our parish do something. He said, “Great idea! Why don’t you organize it?” Startled, I’d hoped he’d be the one to come up with something, but he turned the tables on me. We started small, with a monthly brunch after Mass at members homes, then some activities, hikes, concerts, and the like, helped plan parts of the Mass celebration, etc. The first couple from this group to become engaged first told their parents, then came and told me. I was so honored. I also met my husband of 30+ yrs through this and were married by this priest. Go for it!

    • Larry Bud

      Fight for Brant, this is off-topic – I should not have responded at all to Mr. Edwards’s strawman response. I’ll reply to you because comments on this article will be closed very soon. Oh, I have asked about such things. Many times in many parishes. With an offer to help organize, too. The responses always take one of two forms – either an insincere “give us your email address or phone number” which is never replied to, or a confused and disbelieving stare, as if they don’t believe that single adults even exist in their parish. I’m glad you were successful 30+ years ago, and in fact I could have used a helping hand like that about 30 years ago myself. But this is a different age, I’m afraid.

    • “Try being more friendly and less judgmental. It will be beneficial for all.”

      You say “less”, so I assume you don’t want me to eliminate making any judgements. Do you mean fewer. In that case I will need to know which ones you approve of. If you mean perhaps softer words, then I need examples or a list of approved words to follow.

      I have to assume that telling me to be less judgemental is also exempt from the admonition to be less judgemental. So, I would ask you to not judge me and my level of friendliness until you actually know me. I think that would be more in the area of reserving judgement. A very much more mature attitude.

      Shorts and golf shirt are not proper for Mass…maybe for Walmart (I live in the desert).

    • ericdijon

      But you assert that dress shorts and a golf shirt are proper. It is reasonable to infer that there are styles of shorts and shirts that you find irreverent. Admittedly, you’re the sly one with the axe to grind having a prepared response in defense of your chosen attire. I wonder if your fellow parishioners quietly whisper, “him in the shorts–he’s that cranky guy–don’t say a word…”

    • Larry Bud

      Nice try. I’m not prideful enough to imagine that the other parishioners notice me, much less whisper. Experience says that they do not. But again, nice try.

      I guess you didn’t read where I said that I simply don’t notice nor care what anyone else is wearing. I wear what I wear. Although this week I’m gonna wear mismatched socks knowing that somewhere, Mr. Duncan is stewing over it.

    • I am flattered that you are going out of your way to dress to try and spite me. Dress is important isn’t it?

    • balloonknot9

      Larry I know exactly what you mean, and in true Catholic form others here are doing their best to take you to task. Another perfect example of the lack of community you rightly pointed out. Then of course because you bring up certain topics like the lack of community, recognition as such, the abysmal out reach to single adults you have to be reminded that it is all YOUR fault because everyone else’s parish is so loving, inviting, has a vibrant social component. God is apparently with them but not you in their eyes.

      I am wondering if by not having the community that one would think/believe to be a true chrisitan community you (and I) are the lucky ones to not have to subject ourselves to the superficial, condemning, self-righteous prigs that shortly after spending time with them end up sucking the life and love from those who dare to hope that things would be different. In short, be thankful that you are in the shallow end of this pool.