“It’s just not the same.” I have had several conversations with friends over the past few years about the transition from going to a university with a strong faith community to life in the real world and trying to find a community to connect to. More often than not, we end up saying the same thing…the experience you get as a young twenty-something, coming together in faith with other young people your age to celebrate Mass (or a similar worship service) is unparalleled. Those moments are so full of energy and life and it is very rare to find something even remotely close to that once you graduate.
Even though my husband and I are very grateful to have found a strong Catholic community that we relate to and are involved in, there are times where I find myself pining for the late Sunday night Mass at St. Al’s. Especially those Masses that were celebrated by Fr. Spitzer. Man, I loved Fr. Spitzer’s three-point homilies (more like three points, with five sub-bullets for each point and maybe a minor tangent thrown in there). Whenever Fr. Spitzer spoke the whole congregation was captivated. Usually I would snag a pencil and an offertory envelope to jot down a few key points because they were just that good. I am pretty sure I have a few of those envelopes stashed away somewhere…
Now that I am just a few (okay, 8, but still) weeks from my due date, my husband has graciously offered to entertain my daughter during Mass rather than taking turns. That meant that I actually had the chance to sit and listen, really listen, to the homily this past Sunday and it was pretty awesome. To be totally honest, I have been writing and rewriting this post in my head for the past couple of weeks now, and nothing was coming out the way that I wanted it to. I am a total believer in Holy Spirit moments and I think that there was some serious Holy Spirit-ness going on during Mass because for the first time in at least six years (since I last heard Fr. Spitzer celebrate Mass), I actually broke out a pen and paper and started jotting down notes from Fr. Jim’s homily. I would love to share with you a few things that stood out to me.
You have probably heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” when it comes to understanding other people. People are incredibly complex…they have a whole lifetime of experiences and relationships that have helped form them into who they are today. Further, they will continue to morph and develop and change based on the experiences and relationships they have in the future. When you interact with someone, there is usually a whole lot of back story going into how they are acting around you. Fr. Jim phrased this as “the mystery of the person.” While it might be difficult to do, when responding in love to others it is up to you to accept the mystery of the person and allow this mystery to unfold in front of you. In other words, you should not put someone in a box…the box of what and who you think they are. You will never know their full story, but you can commit to understanding what you can and loving them anyway.
I thought that this was a fabulous point made by Fr. Jim. Too many times we think that we have figured someone out, especially if we have known this person for a while (like our family members, for instance). This is a great reminder for all of us not to take our relationships for granted and to challenge ourselves to unconditional love.
And just when I think I had Fr. Jim’s homily figured out (yes, I recognize the irony), he hit us with the punch line.
This same mentality of unfolding the mystery of the person applies to our relationship with Jesus as well.
Oh yeah, Jesus.
Fr. Jim went on to tie this thought back to the Gospel reading, where Jesus returned to his hometown and everyone around him could not believe that he was actually prophesying. People who had probably known him since infancy were saying things like “Isn’t this the son of the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son?” They could not get past the idea of who they thought Jesus was, and were therefore not open to receiving any of his great teachings or miracles.
Our reaction to their reaction might be different, but in some ways not. To their disbelief we might say “Have you not heard of His works elsewhere? This is the Son of God! He has stopped storms in their tracks! He has raised people from the dead!” The idea of the mystery of the person begs the question, how well do you really know Jesus? Are you putting him in this “great and mighty” box and leaving it at that? Yes, we all know His birth story and how He conquered death. We know that He died on the cross for us. We know that because of Him our lives are changed forever. But is that it? After knowing those truths, do you think you have Him figured out?
I know my answer is no. Like any other person out there, I will never truly be able to have all of Jesus ‘figured out.’ On Sunday I was hit with the humbling realization that I am not making the conscious effort to get to know Jesus in new and different ways. The only way to get to know Jesus better is to continuously pursue a relationship with Him. Whether through continuous prayer, reading scripture, attending church, or a combination of all, it is up to us to find a way to unfold the mystery of Jesus beyond the box that we have been putting Him in.
At the end of his homily, Fr. Jim brought up one of my favorite quotes of all time. During our parish’s Confirmation Mass a few years ago, Archbishop Peter Sartain said “Confirmation is not graduation.” For those unfamiliar with the Catholic faith, Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments of the Church where someone is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and fully accepts the responsibility of their Catholic faith. Many high school juniors and seniors go through Confirmation, so the comparison to graduation is quite timely and relevant. With this quote, Archbishop Sartain reminds us that when we are confirmed, we are agreeing to a lifetime of continuous learning and strengthening of our Christian faith. Confirmation marks the beginning; whereas, graduation signifies the end of something.
This brings me back to all the conversations about finding a faith community post-college. Yes, the transition into a faith community that is not full of twenty-somethings willing to go to Mass at 10:30pm can be hard, but maybe that is the point. For those of us that have those memories, perhaps it is part of our calling as confirmed Catholics to bring that zest and enthusiasm for church into our current parishes. Not everyone has had the opportunity to experience what you have – just as you allow the mystery of others to unfold before you, don’t forget to let others learn what makes you you, too.
In case you would like a reference, the Gospel reading from this past Sunday was from Mark 6:1-6. I also really loved the second reading (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) and would highly suggest taking a look.
‘Til next time,