Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Because Eleven O'Clock Always Comes

As Elizabeth wrote beautifully yesterday, it is amazing how often the liturgy speaks directly to the questions of our hearts. As I entered St. Mary's this morning, I was reminded that it was two years ago today that I began attending daily mass, on my road to being received into the Church. The next thought was, When did I start taking this for granted?

As I came in, the lights were on in the nave, because it was five minutes to the hour. When I first started coming to mass, I often arrived forty-five minutes early and all but the altar lights were off. Those were holy moments, and I felt the inexpressible value of being called to worship God. Now, I come in like a season ticket holder at the opera, dropping down into my box at the last possible moment to be seen by the most possible people. There are mitigating circumstances, of course: A major book project I'm working on under a tight deadline. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours before mass. And now this blog. Often, I'll wake up with a post half written in my mind, and the only time to put it down is Right Now.

Still, I/we take things for granted so quickly and with so little compunction. I was reminded of that again yesterday as Katie and I celebrated our 25th anniversary, partly with dinner at a restaurant where we had one of our first dates. And again this morning I was reminded by Father Barnes's homily and by something Ferde said, like an exclamation point, at the end of mass.

The first reading today, from Romans (2:1–11), is all about judging and being judged. But Father Barnes's first comment was not about judging but about time: Not quoting here exactly, he said we have limited time to repent, to get things right with God.

I thought immediately to myself, And you are 58 years old, and you have a lot of catching up to do, and you're taking this for granted?! You'd better wake up, brother.

Our faith, which can be such a source of joy, is a serious business at the same time. Repent, for you know not the day nor the hour!

Back in my Eastern spirituality days, which reached their peak in the 1980s, I met a man who inspired me more than any other. His name was Michel. Several encounters with Michel were eye-opening for me. They led me to feel a possibility that I had never known before. Then, for circumstances not entirely under my control, I lost contact with Michel. Then, a few years later, I heard that Michel had died. I felt this as a terrible loss. I felt separated from the very source of goodness. I deeply regretted my own failure to contact Michel again before his death, come what might have come. And I knew that some things are lost forever, irrevocably.

That may be the way the Apostles, the women, and other followers of Christ felt the day after the Crucifixion. Of course, they got a second chance. And we get a second chance every morning at mass! Imagine that. Michel may be gone, but Jesus Christ is present every single day—in the Church, in the Eucharist, and in our fellowship as Christians. What a joyous thought!

As Father Barnes added in his homily, quoting one of his teachers in seminary, "God could have sent us a letter." But instead he sent us his own Son, he sent us Himself. And He is present here in this sanctuary and there in that tabernacle, every day we open our hearts and minds to Him.

As we exited mass, things got serious again, as only Ferde can make them serious. He began talking about theatre, where both he and his wife have worked professionally, and he reminded me of an expression common among theatre people. No matter how good or bad the show was, "eleven o'clock always comes." The show ends and will soon be forgotten.

Which in the theatre can be a blessing but in life is another matter. Eleven o'clock is coming! Repent, for you know not the day nor the hour! Wake up, brother, wake up! Today is the only day you have to get things right with God.