How would you address intrusive behavior by an adult at Mass?

A couple of weeks ago I was reading my prayer book before Mass. A man dressed in sweatpants and his wife (I’m assuming) came and sat in the pew in front of me. The pews at my Church are very narrow and close together. The man settled into the corner of the pew, put his arm on the back of the pew, and turned and started looking at me, my prayerbook, and what I had next to me in the pew (rosary case, glasses). I could practically feel him breathing on me. I did not raise my eyes to look at him to give him a message to back off, but began fervently praying that he would turn around. Shortly before Mass began he told his wife he was going to the bathroom. He left, came back, adjusted himself in his sweatpants and settled into the corner of the pew again and remained in this position all during Mass except when he got up to receive Holy Communion. I would stand and he would be right there looking. I kept trying to move away from him. I was so grossed out and felt like my boundaries were violated. And then because I felt so guilty for thinking these things in Church I even reached over and put his hymnal away for him.

I feel stupid because I didn’t know what would be an appropriate action to take in this situation. Even now it still bothers me.

That’s a really weird story. Who wears sweatpants to church??? And putting your arm up on the pew seems disrespectful to me.
Maybe this guy wasn’t raised right by his parents, maybe he doesn’t know right from wrong.
Anyway, about the staring part. Maybe he wanted to know what you were reading. If it happened to me I would say, “Hi, what’s up?”

I think by ignoring him you did fine. Since Mass had not begun when he started staring at you, you could also have moved. I doubt that saying anything would have improved the situation. Pray for him.

The first thing that came to my mind was that perhaps he is on the autism spectrum. He could be quite high-functioning in regard to things like being able to marry, hold down a job, etc. but still not be able to handle social situations. He wouldn’t be able to read cues in your body language and in fact could have misinterpreted your not looking back as indicating that you were perfectly comfortable with him. In any case, what you did was probably best for him in the short run, possibly even the long run. His wife probably will try to reinforce boundaries etc. to him but it will be easier for her not having to explain why ‘that lady got angry at me and I don’t know what I did’ and simply focus on “you did great staying in the pew and now next time we’re going to focus on keeping eyes on the priest now that you’re staying in the pew”. . .

I know it’s a tough situation and it’s going to sound cliche but probably there was nothing that you COULD have done that would have involved a satisfactory resolution for both you and this man. Had you reacted with perceptual discomfort it might have frightened or upset him and made his behavior worse. . . we don’t know. The thing is, if somebody is already acting in ‘different’ way from the norm, it seems likely that he will continue to react differently, so that any kind of ‘reaction’ from you could be met with very inappropriate behavior, anything from him being upset and rushing out of the church, or yelling, or crying. . . because again, people can find it hard to ‘read’ the cues and might perceive any kind of discomfort on your part as aggressive behavior from YOU, and thus ‘over-react’.

I’m sure you’re praying already for this man and it seems as though you did the best you could in a tough situation and with very much of a Christ-like and loving attitude even when it was difficult for you, so God bless.

Maybe you could have said politely, could you please stop? Because that is really weird… I don’t know what I’d have done in that situation. Maybe he wanted to strike up a conversation and is just socially awkward? Maybe it’s his first mass and he’s thinking of it like he’s a tourist, and you’re the genuine catholic he’s been wanting to watch participate in mass. :confused:

Oh, as soon as he sat down and started that up I would have swiftly gathered my belongings and moved to a different pew. :stuck_out_tongue:

Maybe he was admiring your pious behavior. You seemed to have shown him the model of a good Christian. Remember that you can only love Jesus as much as the person you love the least. You did good. Anything less would have been giving in to our normal temptation to treat others with disrespect. He probably was happy to see what that behavior would not normally reveal to him: a person who has enough love so as to know that not everyone is perfect. God bless you… teachccd :slight_smile:

Me too. I probably would have visited the bathroom and then sat somewhere else. What an uncomfortable situation.

We all try to see Jesus in our neighbor, many people are not as gifted as we are, they may not even have the time to bathe. Perhaps he was admiring you prayer books and rosary. Many times a smile will break some of the tension. I hope you made him feel welcome in your church, he may be a visitor. I think your pastor would like to see him return to church.
You could have gown to another part of the church if he made you feel uncomfortable
Do you have any idea how Jesus must have looked walking around the dusty cities, the sanitation facilities were not very good in those days. You failed the test, you didn’t see Jesus in the man.:):):):):):):slight_smile:

What an awkward situation!! Knowing me, I would’ve said to his wife, “Could you please tell your husband to stop staring at me?”… that will make him stop like there’s no tomorrow. :thumbsup:

I would have to conclude that Tantum ergo gave the best reply in this thread with respect to the OP’s original post. I have met my fair share of weird people going to Mass and sitting in close proximity to my usual seating spot in a pew in the back of the church.

The best thing is to pray for them even if they are bothersome or causing a disturbance.
At 6ft 3’ and a husky 225 lbs perhaps I maybe judged weird by some onlookers in the church. However;


I too would have felt uneasy given your situation. I think you handled it with poise with respect to your concerns.

We are all “weird” people. I wonder how many weird people went to Mass where Mother Teresa lived? I wonder how she would have seen that man?

Was it not Mother Teresa who said that if we could see these “wierd people” as God sees them, that we would be tempted to fall down and worship them as the beauty of their souls is something we cannot imagine.

I would have smiled at him, introduced my self and prayed for him during Mass.

Please don’t judge, you don’t know my heart…

Guys, please be nice :slapfight: Even at mass, a woman alone in this situation has the right to feel thouroughly creeped out. And none of us were there

I think the best thing would be to look up and whisper good-naturedly, as if you had just noticed him that very second and had no idea who got there first: “Oh, I’m sorry, let me give you a little more room,” and then sweetly move a generous distance to accomodate them, without removing yourself to another part of the church.

If a grown man acts like a child, indulge him as you would a child, and take no more or less notice of him than you would if he was an over-active boy. Whether he was trying to be annoying (because he resented that his wife forced him to come to church with her, for example, and was trying to make certain she’d never want to do it again) or if he was totally unaware of his faux pas, you can’t go wrong by being more gracious than necessary.

I think it telling that your concerns were entirely with the man, and not the woman. Whatever her trial with him was, you also keep it lighter for her if you give him neither encouragement nor negative attention. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.

Ummm, not a big deal, but judging by the seven smileys of sarcasm I think August Ambrose may have been joking, although I don’t really get it. :wink:

Anyway, you did just fine. It’s human to feel uncomfortable in that situation; I think you did the right thing by doing nothing. Whenever that happens I just try to feel confident by imagining what one of my outgoing friends would do in that situation and then just be content. It usually works. ~shrug~

You saw Jesus in this man, I’m sorry to prejudge you.

If it were me I would just have moved to another seat. That is what I have done when there are children that are really disruptive sitting in front of me. I figure if their own mother can’t get them to be quiet, I certainly won’t. I also am not comfortable sitting behind someone that doesn’t kneel either, because then I am the one breathing down their neck or having to lean back awkwardly. Easier to just scoot down the pew or get up quietly and move. Rather than spend the entire mass feeling annoyed and awkward it might be better to just move and forget it.

I think I would have probably moved to another seat, though I generally tend to sit in out of the way nooks in the church to avoid this kind of thing. If I wasn’t able to move, I probably would have started staring back over the top of my glasses: it tends to wierd out even the people who wierd me out. :: laughs gently::

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