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Can I vent? It won’t take long, I promise.
On a recent evening, I hauled my children to Mass. It was a weekday during Lent, and we were going to do something special, by heaven. We were going to go the extra mile.
The visiting priest gave me pause when he entered with his very 1975-ish, splotchily-dyed chasuble, and began the liturgy by remarking to the small congregation, “Snazzy, eh?”
Pray, I said to myself. Listen. Stop judging. Now.
Which I was able to do until the homily.
It was, to put it kindly, all over the place, meandering like a country road. Midway through, the priest decided, for some reason, to settle on the theme of community. He talked about Catholics sitting in the back, and jovially threatened to make rear pew-sitters move forward. He wondered how many of us actually knew each other.
Then he really got to work. He picked out a woman from a pew near the front and directed her attention to a man in the back.
“Do you know him?” he demanded.
“Then go introduce yourself.”
She rose and met the man halfway. They shook hands.
He wasn’t finished. His gaze settled on an older lady a few pews ahead of me.
“Do you know – “
You can guess what happened next, right?
Yes, it was me.
“Do you know this lady here?”
Well, of course we’d never met. And we were honest about it. So, verbally pushed by the priest, we met in the center aisle, muttered our names and hurried back. I could tell she was as irritated as I was – perhaps even more.
As I sat back down, I glanced over at my 17-year old son who was smirking, but was also clearly relieved that I hadn’t used my Top-Secret-Mom-Laser to turn the priest into some sort of dust, right then and there.
I sighed. All I’d wanted to do was to give us a little extra spiritual boost, a quiet mid-week moment of prayer, to give my college-bound son an experience of liturgy that perhaps he could take with him and come back to in the coming year during moments in which he might be exhausted, lonely and overworked, walking by the college campus ministry on a Thursday evening, a reinforcement of his sense that this would be a good place to go to be refreshed…
It didn’t exactly turn out to be that kind of refreshing experiencing, but I guess my son can see beyond that. It reminds me of the dreams I used to have occasionally when my mother, a strong advocate of the Tridentine liturgy, was still alive. In the dream, I’d be taking her to Mass with the intention of showing her that yes, the post-Vatican II liturgy can be prayerful and reverent and all those things you think are missing.
And of course, in the dreams, Mass would always be a wretched disaster, fulfilling all of her worst expectations.
Anyway, back to the more recent past. Mass went on, but I won’t tell you that I wasn’t still ticked off, because that would be a lie. I was mad – I was a little embarrassed, but more importantly, I was furious at a priest for wasting our time with a clearly unprepared homily filled with loose ends, non-sequiters and cheap tricks.
I was still mad as I stood up to go to Communion.
Now this just would not do, would it? So step by step, I fought my anger, but only half-heartedly, because, you know, there’s something satisfying about self-righteous fury, isn’t there?
Then with three people in front of me, the truth hit.
“He is giving me Christ.”
And I had to let that be all that mattered, because it’s all that really did.
After Mass, my daughter remarked, “That priest didn’t do a very good job.”
Whether she said it because she really felt that or because she wanted me to know she felt my pain, I don’t know. I do know how I had to answer, though.
He wasn’t perfect. But who of us are perfect in answering Christ’s call? Who of us are perfect in fulfilling his will for us? I sure know I’m not.
Are we imperfect? Perpetually. Are we maddening? Sometimes.
Is Christ present in it all, sometimes despite us? Always.
But you might never know it – unless you choose to look.
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