Thursday, January 12, 2012

7 QuickTakes- "Keeping it Real" edition

It's been a while since I have really gotten real about the not-so-perfect aspects of being a priest's wife on this blog, so here we go!...

1. Sunday mornings, we have Divine Liturgy at 11:30 after the main parish celebrates their Liturgy. They leave us any leftover donuts. So we are confronted with donuts at 1:00 PM. It's usually up to me to decide the donuts' fate. I remember the face of the starving child's photo that my parents posted in the dining room table when I was young as I throw away the leftovers. Do homeless men want or need day-old donuts? 

2. Heaven forbid if I give priest-husband a tea while he skypes with the old country early Sunday morning. It doesn't matter that Divine Liturgy will be finished at one o'clock; he is expected to fast from everything from midnight on. 

3. I need to be prepared to be insulted for my less-than-stellar old country language skills when on the phone with an unknown person. Everyone here is amazed that I speak the language at all and that I dress the children, named very old country-ish at my insistence, in traditional clothes for holidays. Luckily, I have escaped most ethnic-difference problems with our own parishioners. 

4. Yes, it is true that his cell phone is always on and he will almost always answer it immediately. There is no secretary-gate keeper here.

5. Just to let you know- when you so kindly ask my husband to perform your baptism/wedding/funeral/house blessing, it really makes life difficult when you insist on a certain day and time with no regard to his schedule. Yes, I know that you reserved the party hall months before you informed him that he would be the chief celebrant, but we are trying to build a mission on Saturday nights. It really destroys any community we are building when he has to cancel. Also, my husband's ministry cannot be bought for a $50 stipend, so no, he cannot overlook a previous marriage or excuse you from actually meeting with him. Please don't put me in the middle. I might look like I am in charge because I lead singing and wash the dishes, but in terms of sacraments, I have nothing to do with it!

6. The hardest part of being a priest's wife is trying to find a balance for my kids. I want them to leave our house as believing and happy Christians. Being in the thick of things and seeing the humanity and sinfulness of God's people can make that difficult. We expect a lot out of our children, and I hope it isn't too much. But then some people say we have made too many compromises to worldly pleasures (for example, the older two have read the first three Harry Potter books, they don't wear a veil in church, they sometimes wear jeans- though never in church). 

Is it enough that the big girls get an ice cream after yet another church service? It can be difficult when they aren't seen as real Catholics by friends even though they assist at a Saturday vigil, early Sunday morning and late Sunday morning Masses every weekend. Will they rebel when they realize that their father is taking on another Mass- this time in Spanish? He tries to sell the Mass as a way to learn Spanish. True, but I dread the day that they refuse to tag along. At this point, the big girls are very helpful with cantoring and other church-related activities. The little ones don't do as much (just Saturday and Sunday services plus the occasional Wednesday Bible study and hospital Mass); I stay with them. 

Perhaps we should pick a 'side' instead of trying to find an impossible balance between the world and heavenly perfection. Some of my choices for my children might seem rather arbitrary (or hypocritical). We homeschool, but we use a public charter school to pay for our outside activities. They have read the first three Potter books (yes, we might lose friends over this), but I'll never let them read something like Twilight. I sometimes listen to 'adult contemporary' music in my car, though it is always sacred music before Liturgy. I encourage my children to be charitable, but I try not to force the issue (for example, they are expected to say hello to a elderly disabled person, but I don't force them to embrace him).

They might grow up to say that I was a hypocrite, but if they are honest, they will know my intentions are good. There is a pressure that we put on ourselves because we are about the only young priest's family we know. We don't want to be a source of scandal for others. What if someones sees my family not working perfectly? Perhaps that fit my two-year old had will be the reason why a person left the church. The fact that we don't veil might be scandalous to some, but if I started to veil that would be a scandal for others. So, we will just attempt to please ourselves and God. At this point, I can say that we have found the perfect balance for us. We don't fit in anywhere. Hopefully, we are fitting in with God's plan. 

7.  This morning I got a phone call from a person I don't know in the old country, wanting money because she doesn't have electricity. We get these kinds of calls a lot, usually not Byzantine Catholic or from my husband's region, so I don't know why we have been chosen. I always feel a pit in my stomach when I realize what the call is about. I know that they think we are very wealthy. In the old country, the priest and his family (when the political situation isn't killing them or sending them to Siberia) are one of the wealthiest families in the village. While he might not make much money, the people take care of this family well with produce, meat and stipends. And if the priest is doing well in her village, shouldn't we be as rich as Brad Pitt? 

It doesn't matter that we don't have the use of our furnace or dryer or that I have been unemployed with no unemployment insurance paid for eight months. Yes, I could be working at McDonald's to raise money to send to them except my closest family is nine hundred miles away (which would be countries away in Europe). We don't receive a stipend for having children like European countries.  I just don't know what to do. I know family and friends right next door that could use financial help. We give financial help to some people and we tithe. But must we respond to random people we don't know? But when I don't give, I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge saying, "Are there no prisons?!"

This past Christmas morning, we had family visiting (yes, from far far away) and my husband had just got home from celebrating a 6:30 AM Mass as a 'supply' priest for the Roman-rite parish. We were in the midst of opening stockings and preparing to leave for our Christmas Divine Liturgy an hour away when the phone rang. I picked up the phone, assuming it was family. Who else would call a priest's home on one of the busiest mornings of the year? I was wrong, so wrong. The caller was a man who had written my husband a letter, asking for money. he wanted to know if my husband had received the letter. I said yes and then tried to explain to him that my husband was between Liturgies on Christmas morning and he would have to talk later. Does he have an email address where they can communicate? No- no email address (it always intrigues me- they all found my husband on the internet yet none of them have opened a free email account). he insults my language abilities and then calls me 'lady.' He is angry. I am able to get off the phone politely (I asked my husband and family- they agree I wasn't rude).

In my husband's home country, politeness is an art form. A lady wears heels to take out the trash. Like in French with its tu/vous forms, you can tell right away when someone is acting too familiar in his language. My husband still uses the formal 'you' with most people older than he. One greeting is "I kiss your hand"- this can be said from a man to any woman. I can use it as a sign of respect to someone older than I. In his language, one uses the proper title like Dr. Engineer or Madame Dentist.  If someone doesn't use a title, it is a not-so-subtle way to show disrespect. So, am I really supposed to send money to a man I don't know who doesn't call me Matusha and doesn't call my husband Father? Even in my husband's country where Catholic/Orthodox relations are very strained, each church gives the other the proper title.

The phone rings again a minute later, and my brother-in-law picks up. He says "hello," and the caller unleashes a barrage of four-letter words in English. So my Christmas started with a bad feeling and a bad headache. Of course, the men are better at laughing it off, but I know that my husband is being slandered in his home country. It isn't easy, but I am still blessed to be living this life. 

find many more quick takes at


  1. I can't imagine doing what you're doing. It seems impossible - my heart goes out to you. My husband is the director of Youth Ministry at our parish, so I know something of the difficulties of balance, of the demands of ministry, and of the invasion on personal time.
    Of course, he is not a priest, and we don't have children yet - so it's not the same.

    God bless you for everything your trying to do. I'm still fascinated by what it must be like

  2. Kate- I try to remember Blessed Theresa of Calcutta's words "Faithfulness, not Success"

    and yes- this life (any Christian life) is impossible- but with God it is possible!

  3. #1: I think they'd accept them gladly. If you're homeless and starving, food is food.

    #3: I think it's amazing that you speak the language -- granted, it's probably the worship language (or one of them) but I look at it as a gift you are giving your parishioners.

    #4: I have yet to convince some of Jon's parishioners that I'm not his gatekeeper and that if he's not home and not answering his cell phone, I honestly have no way to get in touch with him.

    #6: Truthfully, the Harry Potter books are pretty mild -- the first four are no worse than the Chronicles of Narnia. There are always going to be people who will disagree with how you raise your children. You're the parent, not them.

    #7: We used to get calls all morning at Jon's internship parish where someone was about to have their electricity turned off/gas turned off/evicted from their home and wanted me to pull Jon and his internship supervisor out of worship to help them. I had a list of places where I could refer people and the never seemed to want to utilize those resources. Their loss.

  4. I'm so sorry people can be so .. so.. challenging.

    I'm married to a moral theologian, but I don't know much about being married to a priest. I have no experience dealing with any old country, but I have to deal with liberal and gay relatives.

    All I can say is that you know what is best for your family. Pray and discern what is best for you and your family and let others think what they like. If they are uncharitable, that reflects on them. And frankly, insults and four letter words are no way to get money out of me. Does that really work somewhere else? Geez!

  5. Jen- ok- I'm buying some big ziplocs to divide the leftovers.

    I understand people locally asking for help- but these are calls from overseas...of people I don't know. But the massive guilt is still there.

  6. I'm glad you "came out of the closet" about Harry Potter. My 9 year old wants to read it, but there is so much peer pressure to not let them read it. Personally, I think it is harmless, although do have some concerns about it leading to an interest in some of the darker children's literature that is out there.

  7. Elizabeth- Personally, I say that 9 is too young- my general policy is that my kids need to be the age of the protagonist to read a book- so I am making my girls stop at Book 3 for a while. I like the books, but I have dear friends and family who are very opposed to it. My kids have read all the Narnia, Andrew Lang Fairy books and The Hobbit before HP, so I think they can handle it.

    Regina Doman, 'good' Catholic writer and mom, wrote as interesting essay defending HP awhile back

  8. Preoteasa,

    a rather energetic set of "quick" takes...

    A couple of friends are Latin Rite priests, and some have served in rural areas. They would regularly have people knock on the door asking for money: not a meal, or clothes or other necessities, but money. Also if they walked down the street people used to approach them and demand money from them. A refusal was always met with a foul mouthed response.

    The usual response was to refer these people to the local Catholic charitable organisation to manage it. This was not well received because often these people went from priest to priest demanding money.

    I am sure that the local Latin clergy have similar stories.

    Another thing to consider is that even if you to give them money, how would you do this?

    As for balance - it is hard. I have seen many families trying to balance between cultures. But the good news is that if you are rational about it, it will work out.

    My take in it is that as Christians, we are not of the world but living in the world, and we have an obligation to evangelize the world. So we can't live in a ghetto, cutting ourselves completely off from the contemporary culture around us. The ancient Roman Empire was culturally awful, but the Apostles engaged in the culture and transformed it.

    If one also considers some of the works of literature that were preserved by monks, for example the poems and epigrams of Catullus and Martial, the HP books are not a problem.

    I admit that I am a little confused by the hostile attitude some conservative Catholics take to the HP books. I would be interested to know the reasons.


  9. How do these people who you dont know find you? And to yell and swear? Good luck with that. I'm sorry you have to deal with that, especially on Christmas.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this. I love reading about what it's like and it's amazing to see how much goes into keeping things going behind the scenes on your end. :)

  11. I was just thinking the other day that hanging a picture of starving children by our kitchen table would inspire a little more gratefulness at dinnertime. And here your parents did in fact do this. A good idea? Or not so much?

  12. Sure got a kick out of your blog matusha! As a former missionary kid in "ţara veche", I can relate to some of the things you describe here, like the begging, calling for dad, always SOMEONE to criticize my parents good decisions, etc.... Sounds like you are a very caring person and have a good attitude towards life. Domnul să vă binecuvânteze! :-)


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