I work at a Catholic bookstore and religious supply shop for a major Catholic shrine, and I absolutely love it. It’s like retail and ministry all in one, and I get to meet the most amazing people from around the world. However, as spiritual and edifying as my job is, it is still essentially retail with a religious flavor so I still have those customers who make me want to laugh and cry at the same time, and the occasional Big Ones who send me running out to the chapel to make a preemptive act of contrition.
“Where do yall keep the King James Bibles?“
I have had to explain to so many indignant customers that no,we do not carry the King James Bible, because it is not a Catholic Bible. Most people are fine with that explanation, but I have watched the world come crashing down behind some people’s eyes at the revelation that the KJV is in fact hardly ever used in the Catholic Church because it is literally missing books.
“Is any of this stuff already blessed?”
People can get very snippy when we tell them they have to get their own stuff blessed after they pay for it. Because if we sell blessed objects, we are in violation of canon law and technically committing simony. And we all know how well that went over back in the day.
“Let me tell you about my prophecy/apparition/sign from God”
We all like to hear a good healing or miracle story—I mean, that’s why people come to a shrine, right? I love learning people’s stories and what brought them to the faith. But if we get that dead-eyed look accompanied by the words “prophecy” or “Jesus appeared to me and told me to write this book, here’s 200 free copies for your customers” we generally start screaming internally and looking for an excuse to run to the stock room.
“Do you sell anything that can get this demon out of my house?”
People have asked me this question as nonchalantly as they’d ask a Home Depot employee for the best type of ant-killer. Generally I urge them to seek the services of a priest or the local bishop. But the few people who have asked me this were insistent, so I sent them home with a St. Michael candle and a big bottle of holy water. Can’t hurt, right?
“I’m looking for a gift for a friend, and they’re not religious. Don’t you sell anything that doesn’t have Jesus or Mary or a cross on it?”
I’m sorry, did you get lost on the way to Barnes and Noble?
“Oh, -insert saint name here-! What does she do?”
Like, I really don’t know how to answer this question. I know the question behind it (“what’s she the patron saint of?”), but some people seem to think of saints and supplications to them as magical spells, neatly compartmentalized into different spheres of influence. What does this saint do? She makes unceasing intercession for people on earth before the throne of the Living God. The saints are so much more than their patronage, and we shouldn’t only involve them in our lives when we need them for finding lost items or selling houses.
“What do you think about women priests/gay marriage/Vatican II/insert controversial topic here”
Stop. Stop yourself for a second. Would you ask these questions to any other retail employee at any other place? No? Then don’t ask them at all. Off the clock, I’d love to share a tall frosty beer with you and talk about these issues. Its one of my favorite things in the world to do. But while I’m on the clock, as an employee of my diocese, with a line of customers waiting to pay for their Our Lady of Grace statues and handfuls of scapulars? Also knowing that my bishop could waltz in at any moment? All about that nope.
“You shouldn’t sell -insert book title here-. It’s heretical.”
We have about as much control over what gets put on the shelf as a normal retail employee does. It’s not like we order from HereticalPress.com.
-mutters offhand comments about how “weird” everything is, or how “it’s weird to see pictures of Mary everywhere”-
Non-Catholics come into our store all the time. I get that. Especially since our store is attached to a very popular historical attraction. Most are polite, and know how to react when presented with a religion that they aren’t familiar with. But we get those select few who come with a bone to pick. Who for some reason seem to think Catholicism is the side-show of Christianity, and that makes it totally okay to call our devotional objects and images “weird” and “funny.” Right in front of our faces. Just loud enough for us to hear. Which then puts us in awkward situation, because we have to be smiling and polite and in full retail-employee mode while our religion and our entire place of work, basically, is insulted right in front of us. I’ve got enough Scriptural and Patristic arguments in my head to bury anyone who wants to start a fight but all I’m allowed to say is, “Thank you for coming have a nice day!”
“Do you sell any crosses here that don’t have Jesus on them?”
-points the way to the nearest Hobby Lobby-
Bonus from the comments: “It’s cheaper on Amazon”
Yes, no doubt some of our products are cheaper on Amazon. But if you want the services of a Catholic bookstore, please support us! Chances are that if you have to pay a few extra bucks for that St. Anthony statue, it’s going toward making your diocese a little bit better.