Tag Archives: Mass

Silver linings

Joy is a sign of a generous personality, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Since the pandemic began a year and a half ago, I have been on the look-out for “silver linings,” those unanticipated good news moments. (It must be my tendency toward optimism!)

Anyway, due to some odd things that happened in my old church during the pandemic, I started thinking about looking for a new church. I have been going to my old church for seven years, and I tend to feel a sense of loyalty to my parish, but last weekend, I visited a new church.

There I sat in this new church, surrounded by strangers, observing how things are done here.

The first thing I noticed was the music. There were several people leading the singing and in addition to the pianist and guitarist, there was also a flautist and a violinist. The sound was rich, and it pulled me into a sense of community worship.

At the beginning of Mass, the priest called the children up front for children’s liturgy, and about a dozen children happily approached. He said a few words to them and then began singing, “If you’re happy and you know it….” The kids and the congregation joined in, singing and clapping their hands. The priest added a silly bit, and everyone laughed.

And then I realized I was feeling something I hadn’t felt in church for a while—I was feeling joy.

As Mass went on, the sense of joy continued. Two children were baptized during Mass, and I found myself smiling, happy for these two young families and their extended families.

The priest included the congregation in his sermon by asking questions, and he called people by name. His sermon was relatable—he talked about spiritual healing and physical healing, and days later, I am still thinking about the message.

Perhaps none of this seems extraordinary to you, but all of this indicated to me that I have probably stayed at my old church too long. Church is one of those places that can get comfortable, and the habit can make it easier to stay than to go. The pandemic shook that up for me—I only attended Mass once in-person, and I found my church too casual about Covid guidelines for me to be comfortable.

This has been a year of many changes for me, with my mother’s death and leaving my job, and I feel I have been living in a liminal space. Here, where routines have been tossed aside and everything is new and different, it seems a good time to explore.

What silver linings have you noticed because of the pandemic?

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Hunger

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. (John 6:27)

I remember attending Mass at a beautiful old church in North Philadelphia. The church was surrounded by large, brick homes that had once housed the city’s upper middle-classes and now served as a refuge for people who had nowhere else to go. Some were boarding houses, but most had been abandoned.

The church itself was in need of attention. Water marks decorated the walls and broken stained glass windows had been replaced by clear glass, creating interesting contrasts.

This wasn’t one of those inner-city churches that attracted suburbanites to venture into town on Sunday mornings; this was a parish of the neighborhood. Some of the people in the pews wandered in from the street, disheveled and distracted. Most, though, were intentional about coming to church; the men wore suits and the women wore dresses and hats.

Mass was as it is everywhere. The choir was small but their voices filled the church with the sounds of praise.

After Communion, one woman sang a meditation song. I was unfamiliar with the song and I don’t remember the words. What I do remember was the raw emotion with which she called on the name of Jesus; and that emotion still haunts me.

As she sang, it was as though the rest of us disappeared and she was having a private encounter with Jesus, expressing to him her deepest needs, desires and love. She knew Jesus was her only hope, her very survival, and she was not ashamed to admit it.

I was awestruck. When had I felt such a deep hunger for Jesus? His mercy? Had I ever let myself express my dependence on him so publicly?Jesus-faith-vulnerabilityJesus fed 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. And then he told them that he was the true bread; he was the food they needed to consume. At that, many walked away; the message was too challenging.

Pondering John’s gospel took me back to that church in North Philadelphia and to the questions that popped into my mind as I listened to that woman pouring her heart out to Jesus. Her singing was true love and devotion that sprung from her deepest need. She wasn’t singing to please the congregation but to convey to Jesus her deepest hunger.

Knowing Jesus in that way requires that I admit that I am needy, and that I believe that Jesus is the answer to my needs. Like the many who walked away, I can find it challenging to be that vulnerable. I want to believe that I can manage. And mostly I do—until I don’t.

The woman crying out to Jesus in that North Philadelphia church still calls to me, inviting me to stay in touch with my poverty, reminding me that only Jesus is true bread and that I need him to survive.Jesus-faith-vulnerability