Finding God Where??

Sundays are special. Sure, it’s about going to Mass which is special since I see a greater number of people there than I do at a week-day Mass. The church looks and sounds livelier too on a Sunday. The singing has obviously been practiced and goes smoothly, though we’ve lately had the benefit of very beautiful and calming piano music at the weekday services.

So I see a lot of folks I know, and many more I don’t know, all of whom seem nevertheless to be acquainted, drawn together by a single motive – but I’ll get to that later.

The other part of Sunday that makes it special is that I often go to the supermarket after Mass. [I think I’m allowed to say it’s most often Wegman’s.] It’s usually quite crowded during the post-church hours, so again it’s a real community time.

I have yet to meet anyone crabby at the supermarket. You’d think there would be a few – especially the parents who are trying to keep two or three young-uns from fanning out from one end of the aisle to the other. (Oh yes, I remember that time of my life!) Or maybe there could be some exasperated sighs as a shopper discovers that they’ve rearranged some of the products.   No, instead just about everyone is ready to step from the middle to the side of an aisle, or to move their cart to let you pass, or to adjust calmly to the new marketing design.

I’m a special needs shopper, being “vertically challenged” and needing someone to reach the skim milk that’s on the top shelf of the dairy case. It might have bothered me a very little bit the first time I had to ask for help, but now it’s no problem at all. I simply watch for someone who’s taller than I – which includes 99.99% of the people in the store – put on what I hope is a confident smile, and fire away. Invariably, the person I ask responds with a ready and even pleased demeanor, as if I’m doing him or her a favor.

On one occasion (at Weis’s this time) a family of visiting Spaniards was at check-out and asked the rest of us where would be a good place to have a picnic lunch. A flurry of suggestions were offered but eventually there was a consensus to refer them to Eldridge Park. Everyone started giving directions (and I could picture them trying to remember all the turns they’d have to make, and unsuccessfully navigating one-way streets), until one gentleman said, “Wait five minutes till I check out and I’ll lead you there.”

I was once in the position to offer help to a shopper in a wheel chair. There’s not much you can reach from a wheel chair. The woman thanked me but declined my offer. Instead, she somehow got a conversation going about the Lord. “Are you saved?” she asked, point blank.

“Yes, I am!” I responded with total assurance. (This was no place, after all, for a theological discussion.) I suppose I could have guessed that she’d then proceed to the next step. “May I pray with you?” and I consented.

A bit surprising. After all, she was the “disabled” person here. But on the other hand, maybe she saw my height as a condition more disabling than her own. Or perhaps . . . Oh, who knows what prompts a person to share God with another, even a stranger (in a public place, no less!)­.

In the Vatican II era we used to call these kinds of events “encounters.” For me, they extend the Mass experience: People forming a bond of sorts, coming together to be fed; being helpful, kind and giving to one another; serving others, even strangers; teaching the Gospel without quoting from it.

We’ve gotten so that we think being holy (ooh, that word!) consists of going around kissing lepers or being martyred. Thank God he hasn’t made it that difficult for almost all of us, for it’s these small, do-able acts of kindness that express an everyday holiness, that create true joy in our lives and the lives of our fellow humans whom we don’t even know.

And even when we arrive at check-out, we are sent on our way with a cheerful benediction: “Have a nice day!”

Translation: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord in one another.

Holidays, Holy Days

cookoutSummer is on the wane. Its last holiday is Labor Day when families and friends will be gathering in back yards, patios and public parks. There will be games: softball, volleyball, croquet. The traditional hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage will be served along with a variety of salads, topped off by watermelon, cakes and pies. In another day or two, children will be laying out their new clothes for the first morning of school. The mingling fragrance of new pencils and shoes will soothe them to sleep.

Such are traditions. We look forward to them as welcome islands of rest spent with loved ones in an atmosphere of laughter, story-telling and open affection – a powerful antidote to the heavy seriousness of our days at work or school. The goal is simply FUN, pleasure in the companionship of people who love and value one another.

Then too there are celebrations that honor an individual person: birthdays, mothers or fathers day, anniversaries. Special practices often mark these days: the favorite flavor cake is made and extra little services are performed for the honoree.

Count them, these oases of rest and celebration: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, weddings, and so many more opportunities for a relief from the everyday blahs.

As each of these special days arrives, we attentively prepare for them, careful to observe and repeat certain practices that provide the continuity of one celebration to the next. These rituals convey a sense of stability and permanence in our unpredictable world. Yet along with the sameness is a special something new to mark this one celebration as unique this year: maybe a 40th birthday that ushers a young adult into middle age; a Fourth of July that might draw us to consider afresh our nation’s foundation and values.

Most who read this post have been blessed to have been brought up in this nest of traditions that both refresh us and anchor us to a sure place of safety. Holidays can be holy days that cement affectionate relationships with others.

Our liturgy of the Mass consists of the same elements as holidays and is even referred to as a celebration. Each time we participate at a Mass we are at a feast. It is a commemoration of that famous of all dinner parties — the last dinner, in fact, that Jesus celebrated with his friends. This was a farewell dinner, for all at table knew that their Teacher would be leaving them. It must have been a sorrowful celebration, as our going-away parties often are, but it was the high point of Christ’s mission and his relationship with his friends. I no longer refer to you as servants! We disciples had now been raised to the special status of friend.

The Mass is designed to recall and even relive both the Last Supper and the post-Resurrection appearances. In the story of the journey to Emmaus, Jesus reviewed Scripture passages with the two disciples to illustrate how the prophecies referred to his life and death. Just so, at each Mass various scriptural readings add luster to the changing liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. In this way, the life and teachings of Christ are reviewed for us throughout the year, just as the Emmaus disciples experienced on their walk with Jesus. As they listened with burning hearts to old revelations made new, they came to recognize and receive the living Christ in the breaking of the bread. The sacrament of life-giving love was the high point for them in their journey, just as it is for us at Mass.

When I attended Mass for the first time after a long absence, I was amazed to see the pews emptied as virtually everyone went up to the altar to receive Communion. For me, this was a significant change that was probably not realized by those who had remained in the Church. It was a powerful revelation of how the congregation had evolved over the years into such an intimate relationship and greater comfort level with the Person of Jesus Christ. To me, it concretely demonstrated what St. Paul mysteriously referred to as the Body of Christ. The widespread reception of Communion confirmed for me Christ’s real presence in the world and in us.

This is what Christianity is about: our union with God and with each other in Christ. This happens not just once in a while, a few special times a year, but every time we join with one another in the celebration of the Mass.