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Dear Fr Rutler: how do I get out of holding hands during the Our Father?

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Dear Father Rutler,

My wife keeps trying to hold my hand during the Our Father. I’m sure it’s very sweet, but I find it annoying. Would it be un-Christian to ask her to stop? Is there a delicate way of doing so?
Paul C. from Salem, OR

Spouses may hold hands anytime. The real problem is what seems to be the latest fad of groups joining hands during the Our Father. Blame that on various liturgists who would remedy the failure of some forms of prayer to be real worship by inventing gimmicks. They stripped altars, then gave us pianos and guitars, felt banners, balloons, clowns, sand in place of Holy Water during Lent, baptismal fonts that look like latrines, scary Big Puppets, and semi-Vestals dancing with bowls of incense. As the Holy Spirit shines like a dove, uncontrolled liturgists irritate like mosquitoes.

There is some official ambiguity about prescribing or proscribing the lifting up of hands in the “orans” position by individuals, although it creates an imbalance in the flow of the Eucharistic liturgy. But congregants cozily joining hands suburbanise the City of God. The Cross is not a maypole, and mature adults do not do daisy chains. Nor do soldiers in the Church Militant hold hands as they go into battle.

My old college roommate and I reconnected recently, and I want to ask him over for dinner. We haven’t spoken in 15 years, and it turns out he’s a priest now. I don’t know what to do. What should I call him – Father? Alex? Fr Alex? Do I treat him with special dignity, or do you think he’d prefer we just hang out like old times?
Stephen S. from Long Island, NY

Begin by calling him “Fr Alex”. If he wants another form, he’ll tell you. But you’ll help him by reminding him of his Sacred Order. Actually, “Father” is more intimate than just a name. In the presence of others, always address him as your spiritual Father. A beclouded Religious Sister whose dying community was conspicuous for its feminist enthusiasms told me that “Fr Rutler” was too formal, and so I invited her simply to call me “Father.” From then on, she called me nothing.

My priest gives these long, boring, irrelevant homilies. Last week he went completely off script and spent most of the time talking about how bad the new Captain Marvel movie is. I read somewhere that Italian men used to leave during homily, have a cigarette or something, and then come back in when they heard him wrap up. Is that still an option? I know homilies themselves aren’t required for a valid Mass, strictly speaking. I could do without my pastor’s.
Colleen F. from Boston, MA

Unsought mortifications can purify the soul faster than elected disciplines: bad preaching gives a chance to grow in patience, temperance and, above all, charity. Just as sand in an oyster can become an irritant or a pearl, banality in the pulpit can tarnish a soul or polish it. That depends on humility. During the homily, pray to his guardian angel, and say part of the rosary for his intention. You might also offer him a gift of some classical meditations: the Office of Readings, or the sermons of preachers like Ronald Knox and Benedict XVI. Then pray that he will become a holy borrower.

My best friend is a very serious Catholic, but she’s marrying an immature guy that I don’t think takes his own faith very seriously. She asked me to be a bridesmaid. Frankly, I don’t feel comfortable attending at all. She knows how I feel about her fiancé but doesn’t really take my concerns seriously. I feel like I have a duty to stop her from making a mistake, or at least not give my implicit blessing by showing up. What should I do?
Sarah V. from Manchester, NH

From long experience of thousands of bridesmaids, I urge caution with your commendable solicitude. One wants to avoid a Pelagian misunderstanding of the economy of God’s great grace as well as a Jansenist censoriousness. No one is worthy of the sacraments, but that is precisely why we have them. It certainly is why we have the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. By God’s grace (and not by the blessing of a bridesmaid) people can change.

The wife of Benjamin Disraeli said: “Dizzy married me for my money. But if he had the chance again, he would marry me for love.” Poets say that love is blind. It also can be deaf. So you should bite your tongue and just be there, cheerful and supportive. Be confident that your friend wants you but does not need you. In affairs of the heart, there are times when the most fruitful commerce is to mind one’s own business. It is angelic to be a helpmate; it is less than angelic to be a meddler. Give grace a chance.

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