Comment Opinion & Features

Dear Fr Rutler: I don’t like giving the sign of peace. Is that wrong?

Dear Father Rutler,

I don’t like giving the Sign of the Peace at Mass. It seems to me like a needless distraction. I can glad-hand Mrs Smith any time I want. On Sundays, I’m there to see Jesus. Is this uncharitable or disobedient?

Kelsey J from Grand Rapids, MI

The Sign of Peace is a distraction where it is presently situated in the Liturgy, especially if effervescent personalities wave and chat. A patrician friend of mine, when I said Mass as he was dying, asked me to omit the Peace because it made his butler uncomfortable. I have used that as a sufficient excuse ever since, regardless of domestic arrangements. If done at all, it should be liturgical: greeting just the person next to you with a formal gesture. Influenza has a salutary effect because in flu season the Peace is often suspended. The real fault with it is that it is cloyingly bourgeois. If someone intrudes upon you with an unwelcome smile, just say politely: “Noli me tangere”. Our Lord said that to the Magdalene, and if it was good enough for him it should be good enough for us.

My nephew just asked me to be his Confirmation sponsor. What’s an appropriate gift on a student budget?

Hector B from Portsmouth, NH

Your best gift would be to check up how he is doing with the sacraments from time to time, especially on his Confirmation anniversary. A small icon of his Confirmation saint would be appropriate. Also, a copy of the Catechism on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I need to review that myself, since I still have difficulty explaining “counsel” and distinguishing it from wisdom, knowledge and understanding. I guess I am not sufficiently intellectual.

I’m noticing a new trend among Catholic parents where they don’t let their boys play with toy guns because it’s “against the Gospel”. Is there any truth to this?

Mariana H from Oakland, CA

I hope it is a brief trend, before the father’s testosterone fades away completely. If anyone says that it’s “against the Gospel”, ask for the source of the such erroneous information. Our Lord did tell Peter to put away his sword, but that was in order that his destiny on the Cross would not be deterred. He approved the Apostles having two swords (Luke 22:38) which would be like packing a couple of guns today. Did St Michael with his sword demonstrate a defective early home life? The Edwardian short storyteller HH Munro (“Saki”) describes a progressive family who will not allow their boys to play with toy soldiers, so they give the poor lads substitutes in the form of Florence Nightingale and other humanitarians. The result is bloody.

A childlike Pope Leo XII shot birds in the Vatican gardens. Are popes “against the Gospel” for having armed guards? Those Swiss fellows are not carrying tennis racquets. The Glock 19 pistol and Heckler & Koch MP7 submachine gun are reportedly also carried by Swiss Guard members in their function as plainclothes bodyguards. Prior to 1870, the Guards and Papal Zouaves used firearms with special calibers such as the 12.7mm Remington Pontificio.

I can only pity boys with parents who won’t let them have toy guns. Pray that they do not grow up awkward about what a modern solecism refers to as their gender. Meanwhile, ask the intercession of St Gabriel Possenti, patron saint of marksmen, who in youth used his gun to rescue a girl, and threatened to shoot up several men if they didn’t get out of town at once.

Where’s the line between prudish policing and filial correction when it comes to loved ones? Asking for a friend.

Alexander H from Charleston, SC

As a trope on The Pirates of Penzance, you will agree that a prudish policeman’s lot is definitely not a happy one. The best line is not a line at all, but an unselfconscious example. For those who may be treading paths ill-advised, the right corrective is to humble others by example, and not to humiliate by scolding. If there is doubt about how to do this, remember that prudence is a virtue. When a loved one is in spiritual danger because of some act or habit, and it is obvious, ask to name a saint who approved such behaviour.

Caution: that problematic loved one might also be of the opinion that you need some advice too. Sometimes those whose own lives are disordered can be perceptive about others. In monastic communities, fraternal correction requires permission of a superior before offering a correction. This, alas, does not obtain in the secular sphere, but the advice of a priest might help first.

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