Each Friday, I post Flashback Friday, where I use as a guide and usually ask the following questions:St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen: For what are you least grateful this past week? For what are you most grateful this past week? I usually then proceed to answer the questions one by one. This week, though, I’d like to combine the two sort of, because I’ve been thinking about last Saturday afternoon all week…

It was about 3:30 p.m. and I was going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Confession. I hadn’t been in several months. When I got there, there were two people in front of me: a man and a woman. As we were there early, the man and I needed to go to the restroom. However, the doors to the back of the church weren’t open. So we ended up talking to each other briefly. In the process of conversation, I learned he was working for one of the natural gas drilling companies in our area and he learned I work as a correspondent for a newspaper.

He said he liked the origins of words and then gave me an example: “ostracize.”

“I thought of an ostrich sticking his head in the sand, but that’s not where the word originated.”

He said that the genesis of the word was actually Greek and came from the word ostraka which was a broken piece of a pot. The pieces were used to vote out city-states or banish them, thus “ostracize.” Doing a little research online, I confirmed this pretty much was the origin.

He then told me that he was worried about being late for a job in a nearby town. He said he came in after the woman. I told him we probably could ask her if she wouldn’t mind him going first since that was the case and I ended up asking the woman.

First, a brief background: the woman who was waiting with us has mental issues. I don’t say to be mean. It’s just true. When she is in the confessional, she talks very loud and you can hear everything she says. She’s not hard of hearing, I should explain. She’s just loud and I also base her mental stability on having encountered her before in our town. She’s one of those women who walk around town talking to themselves, and I don’t mean just your normal absent-mindedness (we all have that once in a while). I’m not judging when I say this. It’s just a fact.

So I went and asked her and her initial response before I even could get the question out was:

“I know, I know, I know, you couldn’t get in the back to go to the bathroom. I know…I’m trying to pray the rosary here before Confession so leave me alone.”


I finally got the question out, after a roll of my eyes to the man, and she agreed. I thanked her and that was that. Or was it?

I have this pet peeve. When I go to confession at our church, which is a small church, I don’t like standing in line as if I’m at McDonald’s. I prefer sitting in the pew. However, it doesn’t end there. Whenever I see people standing in line, or getting ready to stand in line, I have to tell them loudly: “You don’t have to stand in line, you know? You can sit.”

And so I did this on Saturday — not just once, but a few times.

Later I realized that like the woman, I was acting a bit crazy– and I noticed the people who were there averting their eyes from me or coughing to cover their embarrassment of my protestations. I was being ostracized, much like the woman had been for most of her life, because of her mental condition.

I thought about it some after that and came to the conclusion that if I had such a problem with standing in line, I could have just waited until everyone else was finished. I didn’t have to announce it “to the world,” as my mother might say. Unlike the man, I had nowhere to be and wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere. I could have just kept my mouth shut — and not broken the silence that many prefer as they are preparing themselves prayerfully for the sacrament.

But I didn’t keep my mouth shut — and maybe God wanted me to hear that message: to be silent and recognize those around us who are ostracized by the larger community. And recognize when we are ostracizing others with our own actions and words.

8 responses to “Ostraka

  1. That was a delightful bit of insight.


  2. This is actually quite beautiful and very relevant. We do need to sometimes “step back”. And sometimes, we need to realize, we ARE them.

  3. Awesome post.

    Yes, silence is golden.

  4. Well said. Sometimes we just don’t know when to be quiet.

  5. I have this compelling need to explain myself to people… so they will refrain from ostracizing me. Now I’m thinking maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.