A few weeks ago I walked into church and was struck by a peculiar sight. A healthy, younger (40-ish) woman was moving along with a walker. She was accompanied by an older man. My son, John Paul, was helping her. The two had a subdued solemnity, even joy, mixed with a kind of heaviness I could not explain. I welcomed them to our church and inquired where they were from. They said Erie, Pennsylvania… my wife’s home of 43 years.
Of course, I had to go retrieve my wife, who had already made her way to the front of the church and was praying in preparation for Mass. Now that we live a few hours away in Toledo, she always delights in any Erie connection.
The story unfolded. The gentleman showed us pictures from two months earlier, in a room down in Florida preparing for open heart surgery. He showed a photo of his beautiful wife smiling next to him. Another, with this woman, his daughter. Another yet, with his son.
And he shared photos of a car smashed beyond recognition.
Tears streaming down his face, the man explained that when he had awoken from heart surgery, the surgeon informed him that there was bad news. He thought it had to do with the surgery, but it did not. During his post surgery recovery the three had been driving. A car crossed over the median and smashed into them, killing both his wife and his son. His surviving daughter was undergoing therapy on her leg, thus, the walker.
They were here in Toledo because the woman, her husband and family had moved to this area. The dad was staying with them for the time being.
Here, before Mass, we were so blessed to share tears streaming down all our faces with once strangers who had become dear friends. Unbelievable blessings poured out as we were about to approach our common Lord and Savior, seeking his healing, transformation and renewal of heart, mind, body and soul.
Through all this something was stirring deeper inside of me that continues to “haunt” me weeks after, awakening me to awareness of our participation in the Mass. “This is my body, broken for you”– the profound blessing in Jesus Christ that comes by way of brokenness. “Body of Christ” — a holy communion forging our real lives together in His Real Presence.
I’m awakening to the awareness of how deeply our God desires such great and total intimacy with us, and in Him, with one another.
This is the entire purpose of Mass. Not an isolated event once a week, but the epicenter of our human existence. Our ultimate drama from disassociated pieces to “whole,” as in “holy.” Singular, sacred intimacy with God, and in Him, with one another.
Whether atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Christian, four movements define our own lives. They are proclaimed in every story ever told. We live (Life). We encounter a crucible (Death), through which we are more aware of our identity (Resurrection), from which flows our mission (Pentecost).
Life, Death, Resurrection and Pentecost.
Our lives proclaim us to be imago dei, the image of God. This ushers us into the life of the Trinity. Together we exist to make God, who is Love, known. A holy, missioned, community of persons. This is the DNA of our human existence. And the very heart of the Mass.
Thus, our Encounter was powerful. And made possible through the risk
of authentic, simple, vulnerable sharing. Former strangers ceased to be
merely anonymous “dad, mom, daughter and son.” They became for us what
they are known to God: Jim, Kathryn, Janice and Steve.
Real people. Real presence. Real relationship.
After Mass, our entire family was blessed to sit with Jim and Janice
and simply talk about other things. Such a beautiful, powerful icon of
God’s presence through both of them, and their wife/mother, son/brother,
whom I had a definite sense were abiding with us in the conversation.
We continued to think of them and pray for them on the way home, and throughout the days that followed. My wife called home to family and friends who are very familiar with the story back in Erie, Pennsylvania. The son was a beloved firefighter. His memorial was attended by 3,000 people from the community. Jim and Janice could not attend because of recovery.
Sharing this story is one, small way I am making good on the exhortation at the end of Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
Please continue to lift them all in your prayers. Join us in praying that we all more fully discover God’s presence alive in our personal stories. And that each of our stories are woven together in the body of Jesus Christ. By God’s design, we are a communion of saints here on earth destined for eternity. This is the meaning of Holy Communion, the meaning of Holy Mass, the meaning of our lives. Amen.