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Personal Piety

Rich Leonardi writes of his transition to receiving Communion on the tongue. This is not a required transition. Rich in no way suggests it makes him more Catholic than those who receive in the hand and it certainly doesn’t offer more grace than receiving reverently in the hand. But predictably, someone objects to this practice with the words “I don't understand why people like you think that your way is always better. And that you are in someway a better Catholic.”

I cringe at that comment because it is such sentiments that keep me from wearing a veil. Personally I find the idea of wearing a veil appealing. I know it is not mandatory. The Church neither encourages nor discourages it. It is not nostalgia for the doily covering I wore as a child. No. It is a desire to mark my unique womanly vocation within the Church. At the same time it is a personal reminder of the necessary humility with which I should approach Our Lord. There are a couple of things that stop me. I don’t know that my teenage children are up to the shock. I can hear it now: “Mo-o-om!” It is the way they stretch that three-letter word out to two or three syllables when I have done something so totally uncool. And then there is the indignation it can inspire in those around me. We have a dozen or so women in our parish who regularly wear a veil. I have heard others murmuring, “I don’t know why she has to act so holy. There is just no reason to fall back to the old ways. It is just too showy!” I don’t want to be “showy”. I don’t want to be a distraction to those around me. So I am still bareheaded. Maybe someday.

Personal piety is—well—personal. The Church has a rich history and treasure of devotions and practices. There is no compulsion to engage in them all. In fact it would be impossible to participate in every Novena, chaplet, and special prayer. Each person will develop the complement of prayers and practices that best serves his personal spiritual development. This is likely to change over time as an individual passes through the various stages of his life.

Perhaps especially during Lent, it is good to be reminded that another’s personal piety may prompt us to evaluate our own, however, we should not consider it an indictment of our own. We must respect each other’s choices for private prayer even when those choices are publicly visible.


Anonymous said…
I read that post yesterday on Rich's blog. I was very glad to hear the tips from the various priests who replied. Since most days I have my arms full with my wiggly 1yr. old son, I have to take the host by the mouth. Even though this is the way I originally learned as a child, I am still nervous and self conscious thirty-some years later. I feel like everyone is watching me stick my tongue out. I used to try to wrangle my child, arms and hands into a position to take it by hand (when my third child was little) but after a near disaster of dropping the host, I returned to my original, hands-free method of receiving Christ.

On a different note, I struggle with a very similar quandary in my own journey of faith (but not in an outward sign like a veil). This involves following the Church’s teaching on contraception. During the first 12 years of our marriage, my husband and I subscribed to the popular “the Church needs to change it’s stance on contraception” attitude and used various methods of artificial birth control. After a renewal of our Catholic faith and what it means to be Catholic (we have always practiced our faith but from the 70’s way of learning it) my husband and I have prayerfully followed the Church’s teaching and stopped using bc. We now observe the method of NFP. But during our ‘cafeteria catholic’ period, I was not shy among close friends and family about my attitude on NFP. After our third child we were officially ‘finished’ and the plan was for my husband to ‘take care of things’. Of course, along with our change of heart in the value of life, we joyously allowed God to bless us with our precious son! That of course brought many, many comments from those same friends and family whom I had so pompously announced that we were ‘finished’. I have shared with some of them that we are now following God’s way of family planning. While no one has been downright cruel, they think I’m nuts (and have all but said it). There are some in my family who would not understand at all. I realize that it is all none of their business but since I so stupidly shared things to begin with they feel they can share their thoughts now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking around our church and school functions with a sign on stating that we are not using bc. But I would like to be an advocate for life and why it is so important to reconsider this catholic-culture acceptance of birth control. But because I am honestly afraid of the attitudes and comments, not to mention, I feel like a hypocrite, I stay quiet when women start talking about birth control, why they’re “done” or when someone jokes (but means it) about my husband getting “fixed”. Our faith journey has brought my husband and me to a wonderful spiritual union but I cannot bring myself to ‘appropriately’ share this with others.
Catholic Mom said…
anonymous, I know exactly where you are coming from. I had my own "cafeteria Catholic" days. Actually, all of us have done or said things that later wisdom shows to be folly. And this doesn't just apply to faith. I dread high school or college reunions because I remember some of my words or actions that I thought were so clever or mature at the time. Now I cringe at the memory of them. I would share your change of heart when it is comfortable to do so. If someone comments about your "new ideas" just tell them by the grace of God you have continued to grow in your understanding of your faith. Isn't it wonderful that you are not stuck in the understanding you had a decade ago. And don't feel like a hypocrite. Many saints didn't start out as saints. I am sure St. Augustine would have liked to take back a few of the years he spent in decadent living. Perhaps the years spent going down the wrong path have made the right path even clearer.

God Bless!
Jennifer F. said…
Wow, another great post.

I too feel drawn to wear a veil. I would also love for our family to really dress up for church -- my husband in a suit and tie, the children in very special clothes -- because I think it's the least we can do when going to a house of God. Yet our city is notoriously casual (people wear jeans to our finest 5-star restaurants) so we'd stand out like sore thumbs if we did that, and I don't want to seem like I'm trying to be "holier than thou".

...Although, your comments about your kids make me think maybe I should start now if I'm ever going to do it. My oldest is only 2.5 so he's not yet aware enough to do the three-syllable "m-o-o-o-om" appeal. :)
Esperu said…
One of the aspects of personal piety is that it is personal. The trouble is that some things that for us are personal come, for others who are "busybodies," somewhat public.

Anonymous discussed use of NFP. For us, we had chosen to make the fact of using NFP very public, because we want to encourage other Catholics in this regard. However, after our first child, we were physically, emotionally, and financially ready to conceive another after at about 6 months postpartum. This is obviously a very personal decision, but we were concerned that to have two children 15 months apart would make it more difficult for us to witness to others about NFP. We decided to wait a few months, and then God decided we needed to wait a few months more. Our first two children are 23-months apart. In this case, personal piety cannot fail to become public.

It had never crossed my mind that my personal inclination to receive on the tongue was a public expression of anything. No one except me and the eucharistic minister need care about that, and anyone who does is a "busybody." Oddly enough, I don't have any conviction about this -- I'd be perfectly willing to receive in the hand. It's just that each time I come up to receive, I'm affected by my awareness of Christ's presence, and just can't seem to reach out and take him in my hands. I don't know what's up with that, but I just try to be submissive to Him in my actions.

I can certainly understand your trouble regarding a mantilla. I don't have anything to recommend. On the one hand, anyone who cares about you wearing one would be a busybody, but on the other what we wear in public is always a public expression of ourselves, no matter how private it may seem to us.

I think you've said in the past that you wear a scapular. Maybe you can think of your scapular as representing the same things that a mantilla would, but it remains, by its nature, a private act of piety.
Kelly said…
If you would like to cover your hair without making a political statement, try wearing a hat, or a scarf in a stylish way. It accomplishes the same thing, but doesn't have the same connotation as a mantilla.

The mantilla originated in the 50's and 60's anyway, as hats fell out of fashion, but a head covering was still needed for Mass.
Christina said…
No matter what anybody does, someone will be offended.

Don't let the busybodies hold you hostage. If there is something you want to do for God, do it. :)
Tony said…
Don't let the busybodies hold you hostage. If there is something you want to do for God, do it. :)

I said the same thing. :)

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