Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Because I Forget

Why would you give yourself, body and soul, to the Church? People don't ask this question usually, but it's there. And if I feel it, imagine what a priest feels, or a nun.

It was there in the comment from "Anonymous" yesterday at the bottom of one of my most heartfelt posts. He/she wrote, "I'm always bewildered by how many times Catholics use the term 'the Church' when they should be saying 'Jesus Christ.' Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all mankind. It's not a church, not sacraments, not membership in any church or organization. It's a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and with Him alone."

"Anonymous" must be far more virtuous than I am. Me, I forget. Which means I am a sinner. I do not have any problem with the old-fashioned concepts of sin and The Devil, because for me sin is when I forget the Commandments (two or ten), and the Devil is anything that leads me into forgetting. Apparently, "Anonymous" forgets far less than I do, seldom falls into sin, isn't lured away by the Devil.

This is precisely why I, as a Catholic, need the Church and, yes, love the Church. I would love to have and perhaps sometimes I even do feel a direct relationship with Jesus Christ (that's my business). But the Church is my connection with Our Savior, my daily relationship, my other marriage. Alone, I'm afraid I would not be capable of remembering.

So I wake up around 4 a.m. to the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, prescribed by the Church in varied forms but with the persistent love of a good father for the better part of two millennia, and I read "Today, listen to the voice of the Lord." And I try again. I do some work (these days I finish a post); then dawn comes up and I move to Morning Prayer. Then I come to the Church. This is a practical gesture. I come every morning to Mass at 7 a.m. And through the grace of the liturgy I am brought again into the loving presence of Our Father, the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And I listen attentively to the homilies of our good pastor, Father Barnes, who inevitably will be the subject of a future post.

Very often I leave mass with my arm slung over Ferde's big shoulders, and we walk down the marble steps worn by a century of worship. And why not, when St. Mary Star of the Sea is this beautiful? Later in the morning, at his appointed hour, Ferde will return for Eucharistic Adoration. My accustomed hour is 2:30–3:30, and on days when I am out of town on business, Ferde sometimes covers for me (he is retired). He does this—we do this in a conscious act of solidarity at St. Mary's—so that Jesus will not be left alone. I often take a walk late in the afternoon, sometimes with my rosary in hand, if I haven't already said a rosary before Mass or during Adoration, and when I return home before dinner—if I remember—I read Evening Prayer.

This morning's second (pair of) readings honor Saints Cornelius and Cyprian, third-century martyrs. I was particularly touched by the love Cyprian expressed for Cornelius in his letter. ("Let us then remember one another, united in mind and heart.") And by the courage Cornelius showed in the face of violent death. (""When the executioner arrived, Cyprian told his friends to give the man twenty-five gold pieces.") The liturgy of the Church, my Church, promises me that in some way too mysterious for me to grasp completely, I am in communion with these and all the other saints who have inspired me. This is almost too much for me to bear.

Who are these saints? What is this Church? Nothing less than the direct result of words that issued from "the mouth of Our Savior, Christ Himself, whilst he lived, and was personally present here on earth," to quote Paul Scofield as St. Thomas More. It would take a far more mindful, far less forgetful, far more virtuous man than I to ignore such words, to turn my undeserving back on such love.

This is why I am not just a Catholic but a proud member of the universal and (despite so many human failings over two thousand years of forgetting) Holy Catholic Church.

(Again, my thanks to fine artist and new father Adam DesRosiers for his lovely picture of our church.)