For Thursday, December 8, 2011
In the Catholic faith, going to Sunday Mass is not something we are to choose to do; we are to attend. Holy Days of Obligation, such as this week’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception, are to be considered equal to a Sunday Mass. Therefore, missing Sunday Mass or a Holy Day is a sin. Now, with that said, let me say very clearly, I am a sinner. I occasionally miss Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation as do my children. I struggle with this. I know what is the right thing to do. But it’s not easy.
Last Sunday, Father Paul, our parish priest, gave us a stern reminder of our obligation. I did not need him to do this, or so I thought, because I carry this part of my faith with me. I regularly think of my obligation and of my responsibility and desire to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days. I think of this when I am tired and long to sleep in past 7:30am on Sunday mornings. I think of this when my children ask to sleep over at a friend’s house. I think of this when we travel, when my back is sore, when the weather is poor, or when I long to hang out on the couch in my pajamas and read. But despite all this, when Father Paul reminded us of his desire to have us attend faithfully, I got the message.
Last Sunday I announced to everyone in the car on the way home that we were going to the anticipation of The Feast of The Immaculate Conception service on Wednesday evening. On Monday Emma told me her band and chorus Christmas concert was on Wednesday evening. I was immediately frustrated. Knowing we had school on Thursday morning, the other time a service would be held at St. Joe’s, I knew that going to another church’s service on Thursday evening would be our only option. That Mass would require an extra half hour drive on the night when my daughter’s dance class was to meet to prepare for the weekend’s Christmas recital. How ironic was it that two different celebrations of Christmas were interfering with my need to go to church on a Holy Day?!?!
I weighed my options. I decided to do what I felt was the right choice. But then I arrived home with just an hour to prepare supper and eat. I made pancakes. I was so proud of both of my children when they asked without any hint of complaint, "What time are we leaving for Mass?" We finished supper and then left to make it to the church that is an extra half hour away.
Father Paul, who also says Mass at that church, was there. He began Mass. The service was beautiful. His discussion of Mary hit home with me as both a daughter and as a mother as it does every year. I have thought of Mary an awful lot in recent years and I’ll most likely write about that at another time.
Early on in the Mass, Father Paul thanked us for coming to tonight’s service. He explained where he was coming from when he had given us the stern reminder to attend the Holy Day. He then said, very plainly, “I love you”.
I was caught completely off guard by this profession of his love. This was an unusual utterance. We Catholics are pretty formal in our Mass. Oh sure, priests take time in their homilies to share with us their personality through stories of their past experiences at times but this utterance in this particular way was unique. He had come forward, had looked out at us and had said, "I love you". My eyes began to water and my lip began to tremble. Father Paul may have uttered the words but I knew he was speaking for Him. It was as if He knew every obstacle I had overcome to get us all there at that Mass, as if He knew how torn I had been, how I had mulled it all over, how I had cried and prayed and had almost thrown in the towel, opting to stay home that night. It was as if He saw all my human frailties, all my guilt, all my hopes, desires, and aspirations. It was as if He was speaking to only me in that moment.
"That was nice" my husband said as we drove home. We both mentioned the idea of having Father Paul over for our family's annual Christmas Eve Buffet. My children wanted to know if we were serious. "Wouldn't that be awkward?" my son asked me. I laughed. "Only the first time" was my reply. My husband and children mentioned saying goodbye to Father Paul before having left the church on our way out. Eric was thanked for coming and said Father had greeted Emma by name. I felt a little sad that I had shyly left without making eye contact with Father myself. I suppose I was a little afraid of getting teary eyed again. But I thought also of how I hope my own son will be persuaded by Father as he continues to grow. I hope my own Paul can inspire others in his own faith the way Father Paul does. So many thoughts. I was glad to have the extra time to think as we made the commute home.
Father Paul, thank you for the push to attend Mass tonight. Thank you for your profession of your love for the flock you lead. Thank you for regularly making my eyes water and my lip tremble. I love you too. More than you know.