Sometimes things happen (maybe often) that are so sudden, so surprising, and so extremely profound that we don’t even realize the enormous significance of it until long after it actually occurred. And when it hits us, it almost takes our breath away!
Such an event occurred for this author yesterday. And I don’t want another worldly event to take it away before it’s jotted down. So WordPress, you’ve found a place for this record. And in order to maybe even come close to putting it into words, we’ll need to start from the very beginning with a little background.
As a deacon in our Church, one of my responsibilities is to prepare and present a homily based on the Sunday’s Mass readings. This is always scheduled for the first Sunday of each month. So I generally have a whole month to study, digest, pray, reflect, compose, edit and practice what will be said to our parish congregation of about 400-800 people per Mass, and who range in age from days-old to those in their 90’s. There are some people whose only knowledge of their faith is what they hear on Sundays. And then there are those who study scriptures regularly and of course our priest(s) is present who leads the celebration. And they all seek some kind of knowledge, enlightenment, enjoyment or wisdom from the homily – which of course must also be short in length.
There are times when we deacons will occasionally get bumped by some unexpected visitor and never get to present what we’ve prepared. And then there is the other way around. Sometimes we’ll be asked to give a homily with only a few days notice.
And now we get to the story. I received a call at 11:30am on Saturday asking if I would give the homily for that evening’s Mass at 5:30, as Father developed a severe cold and lost his voice. Well, what do you say??? What would Christ do? There is no question – of course, YES. Now, that gave me about four and a half hours to get everything ready, change, drive to church, prepare for Mass and GO. Fortunately, at least I had that time free.
But you see, we have 5 Masses per weekend and our pastor and associate share, so that meant it would not just be the 5:30 Saturday Mass, it would also be the 8:30 and 11:30 Masses on Sunday, for which I would need to present homilies. And to add a little more stress to the picture, there would be a baptism at the 11:30 Mass that I would preform. And on top of that, our new associate, whom I was helping, has been making this particular 8:30 Mass a “Family Mass,” where he speaks specifically to the kids who come up to the Altar area (our Sanctuary) for the homily. What that translated into, was that I would have to prepare 2-different homilies by 8:30 the next morning. Aaaaahhhhh!!!
Fortunately, the setting for the readings was not extremely difficult. The liturgical day was the last Sunday of the Church year. It was also the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ The King. So the readings spoke of Last Days, Judgment, Jesus our Shepherd and King and the Works of Mercy that Jesus described in Matthew 25. It also being the last Sunday before our change to the New Roman Missal, there was lots of good stuff to talk about. So the homily I used for the 5:30 and 11:30 Masses was not very difficult and I was able to get it all together by 4pm. The biggest parts missing were the review, edit and practice. But I usually have the homily set before me on the ambo or lectern to glance down at anyway, so I knew that we’d manage with a lot of help from the Holy Spirit!
Then with a little nervousness in my voice, besides the EXTREME movement of that Holy Spirit within me when I read the Gospel, we got the 5:30 done. But I’d just like to mention that ‘movement’ too. If you were to read Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus talks allegorically about sheep, goats and the final judgment. The sheep were the ones (people) who lived their lives out of their Love for all mankind, and in the end, they received their heavenly reward; while the goats were purely self-centered. Oh, they knew and loved God. But they never saw God in the stranger, the poor, the lonely, the imprisoned, the child or the outcast, and so they just ignored them, or maybe even worse, shunned and hated them. And the lot for these goats was eternal banishment from God, it was hell! And I just couldn’t stand my own extreme sorrow for those people, our brothers and sisters, who are in that sad condition. It just took my breath away for a few moments. And that, may have just balanced out my verbal nervousness with my awe over the movement of the Holy Spirit within me, because it’s only by that Holy Spirit within us that we can have such enormous empathy/sympathy with “the lost.” But this was not the Profound Epiphany yet!
Between my return home about 7pm, a quick dinner, and working til midnight, the Children’s Homily was also composed. Father gave me a suggestion for a show-and-tell that helped in it’s preparation, as he normally gets graphic for the kids. Another challenge for me for this homily was that Father normally goes down and talks to the kids – sans notes. I’ve never done that before – I like my ambo/crutch! So what I did do, was put my notes on 3×5 cards. And I figured I’d have the kids sit on the steps to the altar where I could talk to them with the cards, with my back facing (most of the time) the congregation. I was REALLY nervous!!!
And then it began. There were probably between 25-30 kids who came up. Having gotten through the first couple of introduction cards, speaking to all the kids and occasionally turning to the congregation, I glanced down at the children closest to me and there, right at my feet, was this little tiny boy just sitting there on the floor, bawling his eyes out, without a sound. I didn’t even know he was there! So I stopped the homily point-blank, bent down and held his little hands in mine. I asked him what was the matter. And he sobbed back to me, “I want my daddy, I want my daddy!” Of course the mic was still on and the whole congregation was hearing all this too. So I said “OK daddy come on up, you’re little boy wants you here.” I so wanted to pick him up and just hold him, but I still had the show-and-tell part of the homily that needed writing hands. So I left him there and continued.
He settled down a little, and daddy never did come up. In my mind was this constant picture of Jesus talking about His love for the little ones!! Did I blow this by not picking up the little boy??? Didn’t Jesus’ whole talk about sheep and goats just ALARM in my head. It was all I could think about! And yet I finished, but in the process something absolutely amazing happened to me – I totally lost the nervousness. The kids all participated in the show-and-tell. The parents and congregation’s expressions through the whole rest of the homily was kind of a dumbfounded numbness. And when it was all over, I bent down to the tiny boy again, and though he still had a tear on his cheek, he somehow seemed much better. What an absolutely indescribable feeling – this LOVE of God!!!!!
Well it still wasn’t totally over. At communion, at the very end of the line, I got to see our tiny little boy again. He walked up ahead of his mom and I blessed him and told him that he was my hero today! Of course dad wasn’t there – not sure where dad was, maybe had work, maybe had the other kids, maybe just wasn’t??? But mom herself didn’t take communion – not even a Catholic! So she got the blessing too and a thanks. Isn’t God awesome!
This morning I thought, you know, here I was so dead nervous over having just a few hours notice to prepare and distribute God’s Love to a thirsting community. Yet there was this little tiny boy with absolutely no notice, who walked up to to the front of the church, alone and oh, so brave, and who brought Courage to this big, old guy who was supposed to be bringing courage to everyone else.
OH, the depths of the riches of the Glory of our King –
there, in the presence of the tiny ones,
there, in our acceptances of unexpected requests,
there, in our open hearts!!!!!
Thank you Jesus.