The entrance procession to Our Lady of Mercy Church begins long before the servers start up the aisle. Take our family, for instance—we walk, or sometimes run, down Sunnyside Avenue, where our feet must by now have worn their own groove into the sidewalk, in the footsteps of thousands of families who have walked to Sunday Mass here for the last 100 years. Our procession includes a family footrace on a certain half block, decreed by our son years ago. At least we’re in good biblical company: Didn’t Peter and John race each other to the empty tomb?
We climb the steps into church, where Charles tells us his son is finally back in the country after serving in Afghanistan for several years. Whew. And here’s Carol, who grew up in the days before girl servers, who once told me how much it means to her to see our daughter serve so confidently.
Folks in the pews hail from around the globe: all hues of skin, saris, African dresses, sounds of Spanish and Tagalog. Incredibly, we’ve all ended up here on this ordinary Sunday to encounter the carpenter from Nazareth, who draws us to himself.
Up the aisle come the servers (how wonderful that our children lead us), the readers, and Father Joe, the salt of the earth, in what I know is his favorite moment of the week. (Sometimes he drags out the announcements because, you can tell, he never wants it to end.) Together we admit our sins, “in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” Does this mean my resentments, my clinging to the moral high ground? You bet. We come to Mass dragging our sorry selves, our faults, our failures. God accepts them all.
Today in the readings lies every parent’s blackest nightmare: the death of one’s child. Elijah calls on God to revive the son of the widow he is staying with—on his third try God obliges. And Jesus? Moved with pity for a grieving mother, he cries, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” and the heart of the widow of Nain leaps as her formerly dead son sits up. These stories deserve all the patience and subterfuge we can employ to entice our kids into listening when they’re old enough. They are stories for a hungry world, and our kids are hungry, too.
We stand to pray for our world, our leaders, the sick, the dead. The kids of the parish process up, in a raggedy line, bearing the gifts: bread, wine, boxes of Cap’n Crunch for the food pantry (now who do you think picked that out?). Someone once told me to picture my whole week being brought up at the offertory with the gifts, so perhaps I’m toting all those hours of work and play with me down Sunnyside, too.
Father Joe extends his hands over the bread and wine, then lifts them high; I can hear the old woman behind me whispering, “My Lord and my God.” We line up to reach out our hands for the risen Christ. St. Augustine said of the Eucharist, “Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” In other words, you are what you eat: the body of Christ. Our kids can chew on that transforming belief their whole life long.
I forgot to mention music, but here it comes again at the end: “And I will raise you up on the last day!” When we sing, it’s like praying twice—Augustine said that, too. The song carries us out of church, where we say hello to Father Joe and our friends before the walk home.
Will this hour be “a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path,” as Psalm 119 says, as we step into a new week with all its hopes and loose ends and disappointments? Of course it can be. We just need to let the Mass do its work on us.
By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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