Fr. Peter Daly
May 9, 2005
When I was first ordained, I lived in a rectory with a retired monsignor of “regular” habits. He did everything on a schedule. His walks, his prayers, even his snacks, were regular.
Every evening at precisely 9:55 PM he would come downstairs after he finished his night prayer. He would get one glass of ice with a splash of water for his nightcap scotch and water. He would get precisely one slice of processed Swiss cheese. Then he would go back upstairs at exactly 9:59 PM to watch the 10 PM evening news. He watched up to the sports, then turned it off. He never varied.
I used to think this habit driven life was too rigid. It lacked spontaneity. But after nearly 20 years of parish life, I see the virtue of habits.
People in the parish depend on things being regular. They get their regular mass times. They get their regular parking space. They get their regular pew. If something changes, they get out of sorts.
When we moved into our new church I thought there was a chance to change some of those habits. I was right, but it was a tiny window of opportunity. Almost immediately we developed new habits.
For instance, where you put things. If things are moved, people don’t like it.
Last Easter we moved the little stool where we put the collection about 5 feet to the right to make space for floral decorations. This completely disoriented the servers, who wandered around with the sanctuary looking for the stool.
Once we acquired a little refrigerator in the sacristy we moved the wine. The Eucharistic ministers kept moving it back to the cabinet where we had stored it before we had the refrigerator.
Children, especially, like things “regular.” For our children’s liturgy of the word, we have name tags in the shape of crosses which the children hang around their necks, so that the leader of the liturgy and know who they are. Some children will refuse to go out to the liturgy of the word if they don’t have their proper name tag.
Some people have their regular parking spaces. One week someone parked their car in our lot and went away on a honeymoon. They took the parking space of one of our ushers. She was not happy. Monday morning she was in the office demanding to know “who is in my space?”
A lot of this habit in parish life is just the inertia of trying to move a lot of people in the same direction. There is always somebody who does not get the word. Things need to be repeated over and over again before they sink in. Once the habit is ingrained, change it only at your peril.
I am no different. After so many years of praying for “John Paul, our Pope”, I find myself stumbling in the mass trying to remember it’s now “Benedict.”
Sometimes people catch me acting out of habit and not paying attention to my own announcements. Recently we changed the traffic pattern in our parking lots. I forgot the new one way pattern and came flying in “contracorrente” (against the current) as the Italians say.
One lady leaned out her window and yelled, “What’s the matter Father, don’t you read the bulletin.” I was busted.
It happens. After so many years I had become a man of habits, like the old monsignor.