16 March 2011

Where Has all the Etiquette Gone?


I was at the airport in Rome not too long ago when, at the baggage claim area, this Italian fellow who worked there came up to me, bowed, kissed the pontifical ring, and insisted on going to the back to get my bag personally. Compare that to the typical level of respect shown to the clergy in America these days, and the two stand in stark contrast. Parishioners sometimes call their priests by their first names now, and even those who still call them "Father" act more like they are talking to their golfing buddy instead of their priest. Bishops get addressed simply as Bishop without reverence. Sadly, far too many priests actually encourage this type of behavior under the misguided notion that such familiarity will make it easier to "get through" to the parishioners. I need not point out the folly in this thinking, as history shows it quite well.

Outside the walls of the Church in general society, the problem is even worse. A priest can, of course, forgive someone who calls them "Mr." when they are in civilian attire. After all, how do would they know? Yet, even when in a clerical collar, it is far from uncommon for priests to get called "Mr." And why not? Society these days encourages bringing everyone to the least common denominator. I was even told that a nearby Army hospital now discourages calling retired military officers by their rank, but rather only by "Mr."...unless, of course, the officer insists. This is odd to me, having grow up being taught to call people according to what they are. We called officers by rank, even if retired, unless they preferred otherwise. Doctors and Professors were addressed accordingly, and of course, the clergy was given proper respect. (For a nice collection of proper protocol when addressing clergy, please see the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church's protocol list. While this is specifically written for our usage, it is easily translated to the Church overall.)

Now, some claim that it is the clergy themselves who are to blame for the lack of respect. Cases of child abuses by certain clergymen are help up as reasons why "priests are no better," as if the sins of a few are to be used to stain all others who have devoted their lives to God. Yet, it is not a matter of whether or not priests are better or worse than anyone else. It is a simple matter of the divine office that they hold and the indelible mark that has been placed on their soul. No matter how imperfect they may be, the clergy still represents God. Bishops remain the successors of the Apostles, who received their authority from Christ. Priests share in that ministry and consecrate the elements in the Holy Mass. Deacons serve the church in special ways that go back to the earliest days of the Church, and they carry on the legacy of St. Stephen the Deacon and Protomartyr. To disrespect the clergy is to disrespect the Holy Church and ultimately God Almighty Himself.

This problem in America, though, is not just limited to etiquette towards the clergy or even the use of professional, military, or other titles. There is a general lack of courtesy and etiquette. Children as a whole especially are not being brought up to have any sense of decorum or responsibility towards others. What would simply have not been tolerated when I was young and in earlier generations is now perfectly acceptable, excused under the heading of "they're just kids." If you dare correct one, though, you will be in for a rude awakening. For example, once I was at a party when a 2 year old came screaming across the room and slammed right into my leg. I looked down at him and said "Excuse you." The incident didn't seem to phase him. His mother came up to get him, did not apologize for him to me and did not correct him, but instead looked at me as if I was the one at fault. Yes, parents have lost control. They have abdicated their responsibility as parents. The children have taken over. I am afraid to think what society will be like when these children are adults with no sense of decorum, no etiquette, no responsibility towards others, and no common courtesy.