I missed Mass on Sunday. On Monday morning I was there promptly at 835..for 830 Mass. My husband and I sat in the front row. The Mass was being said by a lay person because it was not a regular Mass but a Communion Service. This is a "Mass" in the absence of a priest and one of the parishioners helps out with pre-consecrated hosts. I like these services because they invite the possibility of surprise..when the human element shines through the ever present Divine.
On this Monday morning of ordinary time, as we Catholics call the days between the end of Pentecost and the beginning of Advent, the human element was obvious present...alongside the Divine. Today three things happened to remind us of just how lovably human we are.
The woman who was giving the homily is my idea of a modern day saint. She is there every single day; she is beyond a grandmothers age; she is about five ft, three, and has the sweetest blue-green eyes, so tender and watery, full of kindness..and love. Her gray wavy hair, pretty short, was tied in a teensy pony tail, bearly visible as it blended into her perm. She highlighted it with an understated creamy white bow, about one and a half inches long, which most would not even notice. Surprised by it, I notice it right away..and enjoyed it.
To me this woman is absolutely beautiful. I was familiar with the horrors and sadnesses as well as the joys that her heart has held. When asked how she did it and stayed so faithful, she shared with me that she guessed God's Presence had to be sought, not even day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, but second by second. This was how she got through. Little did I know then, that He would invite me to this kind of intimacy soon. She and her aging husband, a tall and athletic guy, bent over a little now, were in the back row daily. I think she comes early to set up everything for our beloved priest. Today, and lately, her husband wasn't at her side. I thought about the day I asked her about her life,when I found out that she had had eight children, several lost to addiction, accident or illness, and now several grandchildren. She was concerned about the little ones and prayed for them often, while some of her adult children were still struggling. Each day she prayed out loud for all the addicted, never giving up on them. She and her husband are a well respected couple in our small community. I admire them so much.
She now softly bent over the Book at the lectern,started the reading. It was about the story of Matthew, one of the last apostles chosen by Jesus. She read in a fragile but steady and loving voice, the voice of age, purring with love. I thought of the story of the velveteen rabbit, picturing its grey fur worn thin and matted by the cost of becoming real.
In Matthew, Jesus chose someone that would be about as popular and well respected as the recent politician that tried to sell Obama's senate seat, who has been recently convicted. Slime bucket. He did not invite this unlikely candidate to be His apostle until later in His ministry, after He had performed many signs and wonders establishing His credibilty, because He knew exactly how much it would take to get this corrupted tax collector to full conversion. He wanted him whole first. The conclusion was drawn about Jesus and how and why and when He picks each of us, why He waits so long and puts up with so much crap before He says, enough? enough! I want you, I need you..NOW. When He called Matthew, it was his perfect time..and he gave it all up, all he had of the world's gold. Now, Matthew came running because it was the right time for his whole heart to turn to Christ..in full commitment. This reading answered so many questions for me..about my loved ones, and the ever present query, when, when, Lord??
It gave me some peace..That message delivered by this holy woman who had lived the cross, was Divine. Now back to the purely human, our adorable reader. It was such a long commentary she was reading from that finally she faltered and lost her place,not once, but a couple of times, fumbling with confused embarrassment. Her voice fading while her eyes darted desperately from line to line searching her place on the holy page. Oh, oh, I'm sorry..I,..I lost my place. That humble apology, her carefully placed pony tail, small as a plug at the nape of her neck, my knowledge of her story, her absent husband..was he ok? I hadn't seen him at her side for a while. All this, and her watering bluish eyes, peeking kindly through the oversized rims, made her message so poignant..and powerful. The power was in the Divine mixed with the human, the mighty and the weak, like Perfect Christ and the flawed Matthew, whom He chose as His own. For me today, the messenger was the message.
Two more wonderfully human things happened shortly after her quiet return to her seat. First to my husband, who, during the handshake of peace, with open hand, rushing enthusiastically from one parishioner to another, trying not to miss anyone, was suddenly surprised by a good friend, who appeared unexpectedly at his side, eager to share a handshake or maybe a hug. He turned too quickly, breaking the hand to hand rythm he had going, his hand landing flat and loud on her cheek, accidently slapping it. Not hard, but hard enough to be get attention. It brought laughs.. out loud. At such a sacred moment, the handshake of peace - a perfect time to be slapping friends around. It inspired my sick joke, Oh. He slaps me around too, and then, her clever reply, Well, now I feel like part of the family!
Now, God was on a roll and I was His next victim-just at the most sacred moment, the Eucharist. At this service, the Eucharist is passed on a dish from one parishioner's hand to another's, which always makes me feel sort of uncomfortable,..in case I do the wrong move. Well, today, I did the right moves, and was relieved,.. until after I received the host safely in my mouth when I started coughing..violently. I could not stop, even as the host started to melt on my tongue. My hand flew to my open mouth just in time to catch the soggy bits of consecrated dough, spitting through my gooey fingers. I spent the rest of the service pretending not to lick up the teeny pieces glued onto my unholy palms. I had to get every last morsel back in my mouth as one would never leave a piece of consecrated host rudely uninjested. That would be sacrilegious and, worse by human standards, impolite..and even worse by mine, embarrassing.
Three is enough, Lord, I get the message. He likes us just the way we are, just how He made us. We are His delight, fumbling, forgetiing, spitting, slapping, missing the mark, warts n all. Leaving perfection to His definition, our lot is to enjoy being fully alive..as human as He made us. It lightened my heart, as if Jesus was saying as He rides with us through this life, Enjoy the ride. You only come this way once and...know that You are loved, just as you are.