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Dear Fr Rutler: As a new convert, should I tone down my wardrobe?

A straw hat: too much? (Pexels)

Dear Father Rutler,

Twice a month I attend a meeting of fellow knitters and needle-pointers. Usually the conversations are focused on family news, health matters, etc. More recently, however, the subject has turned to weightier issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. I haven’t yet involved myself in these discussions, as it’s increasingly clear to me that I’m the only practising Catholic in the room. Have I committed a sin of omission? What should the Catholic response be in such cases?
Nancy B from Fort Worth, TX

Choose your battles. You should only engage those matters with people who think deeply, though that need not exclude people with knitting needles. They would not raise those topics if they were not uneasy about them. Gently ask if they know any same-sex couple, or anyone who has had an abortion. That might hit a little close to home.

If your friends enthuse about Pope Francis as some sort of “non-judgmental innovator”, ask if they agree with his refusal to call same-sex coupling a marriage. After all, the Pope has said: “Let’s call this ‘civil unions’. We do not joke around with truth.” And there is his description of having an abortion as “hiring a hitman” and his characterisation of transgender propaganda as “ideological colonisation”.

You might suggest that your sewing circle dedicate each stitch to one of the approximately 46 million infants snuffed out each year, unable to wear knitwear. Dickens’s Madame Defarge is not a heroine, but you could emulate her silent knitting, knowing that as she was doing it for death, you are doing it for life.

My daughter just turned 16 and now vociferously insists that she’s old enough to decide whether or not to go to Mass. (Her preference is “not”.)
At what age should parents stop forcing their children to practice the faith?
Judy L from Salt Lake City, UT

The faith cannot be forced on anyone, nor can faithlessness. Your dear but confused daughter’s problem is ignorance and pride, for which the cures are truth and humility. For truth, ask her why she rejects the Banquet of Heaven. For humility, ask her how she knows more about the Mass than some of the saints who yearned for the grace of Holy Communion at her age: Pier Giorgio Frassati, Chiara Badano, Isidore Bakanja, Teresa of the Andes, Stanislaus Kostka, Catherine of Alexandria, Pedro Calungsod, Aloysius Gonzaga, Dominic Savio, Thérèse of Lisieux, and for a final punch Joan of Arc.

Have her first read brief accounts of their lives, and then write notes to a few of them explaining why they were mistaken. You might add that if she is old enough to decide about rejecting Christ’s actual Presence, she logically is also old enough to accept a bill for her room and board.

I enjoy hosting the Easter feast for my family and friends every year. However, some of my uncles don’t know the difference between a barbecue and a bacchanalia. They drink far too much and swear loudly around the table. What’s the Christian way to redress the situation, so I know for next year?
Susan H from Buffalo, NY

You may play the bountiful hostess by serving dry sherry for starters in small glasses, followed by a bowl of fruit punch, telling them that the money you would have ordinarily have spent on harder stuff is being donated in their name to the Little Sisters of the Poor. On the table, cheerfully place a floral centrepiece with a manly looking statue or icon of the Risen Christ. Have them place a dollar bill in a bowl for each profanity uttered, proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Project. (But that could backfire if they are patriotic.)

I was raised Episcopalian but converted to Catholicism a few years ago. For me, springtime (and especially Easter) is a time for bright pink pants and straw hats. However, my new Roman co-religionists don’t seem to agree. Even when they dress well, the men are often so boring. As one convert to another, should I tone down my wardrobe? Is my conversion incomplete until I ditch the Nantucket Reds?
Brad W from Greenwich, CT

I was an Episcopalian at a time when dressing down was unthinkable, and the ushers wore frock coats and striped trousers, and we got a new suit every Easter. But back then, any man who wore pink trousers would be thought of as not the marrying sort, and I do not know of any Doctor of the Church who wore a straw hat before Memorial Day. As for tedium, our Lord never found anyone boring. If we make an effort to find out people’s personal stories, we could get a better sense of why He died for them.

Fr George Rutler is the pastor of St Michael’s Church in New York City. To seek his advice, write to [email protected]