Sunday, November 28, 2010

Random Thoughts From a Long Walk on The First Sunday of Advent

This morning when I arrived at church for Mass, I encountered a woman standing at the foot of the steps, clearly daunted by the task of having to get herself and her walker to the top. I offered to carry the walker up for her and then I went back down to assist her up the steps. I was touched that she was not only physically handicapped but that speech was also an effort for her. Clearly, it was an enormous effort for her to get into that church, but here she was. Meanwhile, how many fit and able Catholics stayed home from Mass today because it was too much trouble to give an hour to God?

I'm not sure if I have shared this before on the blog, but before I returned to the Catholic faith, I belonged to an Anglo-catholic church where, for awhile, I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. I loved the interior of the church, with its beautiful stained glass window behind the altar and the rood screen depicting the Crucifixion. It was dark and somewhat medieval looking and I found the interior an easy place to meditate and pray. Surrounding the exterior of the church was a beautiful garden lovingly cared for by a core group of parishioners who often gave up their Saturday morning to to prune the roses and tend to the hedges. In the Gothic spire that rose high above the church hung a peal of bells that rang out on Sunday mornings in a compelling display of change-ringing. On Saturdays, I helped with the soup kitchen, where mostly homeless men and a handful of homeless women sought solace, a hot meal and warm place to go. The church had everything I had searched for and everything I needed - or so I thought it did.

One day, I was sitting in the pews during Evensong and Benediction, and as the minister raised the monstrance, I had an uncomfortable feeling. I doubted that the monstrance contained the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and I thought that if I participated in this ritual again, it would be akin to worship of a false idol. Not long after, I found myself back in the arms of Holy Mother Church.

I was keenly aware that this being the First Sunday in Advent, a service of lessons and carols would be held at this church. I knew that benediction would not be part of the service, so I thought perhaps it wouldn't be a terrible thing if I went. The church has one of the best organs in the city and a choir of truly angelic voices, so what could be the harm in sitting in a pew and listening to stories from the Bible and beautiful music? I got to the doors of the church, and I just could not bring myself to enter. Why? Because there was a reason why God lead me away from this place, not the least of which was because for many of those inside, what goes on in that magnificent building is nothing more than entertainment. I remember being told of people withholding their pledges because they were dissatisfied with the quality of the music. Imagine if they'd been subjected to "Gather Us In" on a weekly basis? I had the feeling that I was no better than they were, seeking to enter a house of worship merely to be entertained. I wanted to hear the choir sing " O Come O Come Emmanuel", even though I knew He wasn't there in the Real Presence.

On my way home, I passed a Catholic church, not my own parish, that is just a few blocks from my house. I remember when this church held Vespers on every Sunday of Advent. It doesn't any more, and it closes after the last Mass on Sunday. Anyway, as I passed by the church on my way home today, I saw a man standing at the top of the steps. I recognized him as someone I frequently see at Adoration. He was going through all his usual gestures as he prayed, facing the altar. He wasn't going to let a locked church stop him from adoring the Lord. I stopped briefly to offer my own words of adoration, as I try to remember to do every time I pass a Catholic church, and then I headed home to finish getting Sunday dinner ready for the family.

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