Last night was our parish's Pastoral Council meeting -- a body which has the dubious honor of having me as a part of it. And at the meeting, someone brought up an announcement which had been made for the last several weeks before mass along with the usual "Please turn off all cell phones and pagers". This additional announcement was to the effect of: "For the parents of young children, there is a cry room available if your children become noisy. Please respect the worship of those around you."
Given that some of the other local parishes have a very aggressive "please leave your kids at the parish babysitting center -- if they make noise we will give you the evil eye" policy, and that our parish has generally been pretty family friendly, this announcement was not making any friends. And indeed, at the meeting, nearly everyone (most especially parents) agreed that it gave a negative impression. (It was decided to change or get rid of the announcement.)
However, a minority demanded, "If we can't have an announcement, what can we do about the occasional family where the parents shows no inclination at all to make their kids be quiet or take them out?"
This, I think, underscores a fundamental sort of problem that many communities face in regards to enforcing behaviors, especially positive behaviors or virtues. There is simply no effective way of quickly and effectively enforcing virtue.
Let's look at this issue of quiet in church as an example. Now when you get down to it, it's not just quiet that's at issue. The church would be quiet if no one was in it, but that's not the goal. Rather, the goal is that everyone have sufficient respect for the mass to remain quiet and pay attention, and teach their children to do the same (while taking small children out temporarily on those occasions when they are not persuadable.) So the goal is best summarized as: Everyone in the church should have a strong sense of the sacredness of the liturgy, and convey that sense to their children.
Now, there are lots of increasingly draconian things one could do to enforce silence. One could tell the ushers to escort out the family of any child making so much as a peep. The priest could stop saying mass and glare at offending children during mass. One could simply ban children from the church. However, none of these would foster that sense of the sacred -- indeed, quite the opposite. Such practices would deeply offend families, turn the mass into a battleground, and (through banish children from the church) completely fail to teach children anything about the mass.
Trying to force the desired results of virtue not only fails to cultivate the virtue, it actively frustrated the development of the virtue.
So what is one to do?
It seems to me that is exactly the issue. There simply is no way to quickly force through, without exception, the development of a virtue. And if you try to force the effects, you will often end up assaulting the very virtue you seek to cultivate.
And yet we very often find it emotionally impossible, in our rush to "do something", to recognize that the best thing we can do is not take drastic action, and work through the long process of educating and moving the community culture to where it needs to be in order to achieve our desires.
Rosmini for August I
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