Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lent in Catholicland: A Peek at My Day

To mix things up a bit, I took my younger son to a Mass at a parish a few miles away instead of our usual parish home. After Mass, we drove over to our parish for our monthly Family Catechesis.

This three-hour odyssey showed me how rich and varied our faith is, even here in suburbia. I wish those who don't know or who misunderstand the Catholic faith - who think we are a bunch of reactionary weirdos -  could encounter some of the joy and goodness my son and I did today. Here is a glimpse.

We arrived early for the 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Matthias and I am glad we did. By the time the Mass started the large sanctuary was standing room only. The parishioners are a diverse lot. In the pews sat folks of every age and culture; right in front of us sat a pregnant African-American woman. Next to me, an older Asian American woman and in front of us a little to the right a beautiful baby slept in his carrier with his white mother and Filipino dad between him. Occasionally, he opened his eyes and looked around at which point my often-nonchalant teen waved to him enthusiastically.

The Mass was celebrated by two priests, with eight altar servers (boys and girls) and a choir of varying ages and cultures assisting. Even as the Mass got underway, people kept streaming in, lining the back of the church and the walls on the side.

The principal celebrant welcomed us all to the Mass and said something along the lines of "Wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here." That was nice to hear. "All Are Welcome" seems to be this parish's motto; it adorns banners on the pathways leading into the church and is featured in its promotional video on the web.

The Mass was long; two parishioners, a mother-daughter team, spoke after the homily about the need for stewardship and about their own faith journeys. Later,  several people who will be baptized during Easter Vigil were recognized and prayed for. The children of the parish - dozens of them - were ushered out during the readings for their own Liturgy of the Word and then returned for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The message I came away with from that parish is that we are the Body of Christ here on earth, that we in the pews are the Church and that we need to live our lives with that understanding.

I leafed through the bulletin and discovered  artist and writer Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, is visiting the parish in a few weeks. I made a mental note to put that on my calendar.

After Mass, my son and I headed over to our home parish, St. Peter's in New Brunswick. It is the oldest church in the diocese and it is run by a community of Oratorians. We arrived early for the Family Catechesis and settled downstairs in the the parish hall. We had a nice chat with Anne Marie, our Religious Education Director, a mother of six who also is a Secular Oratorian.

When the 50 or so people participating in Family Catechesis arrived, (including a seeing-eye-dog in training with one of the families) we said grace and then ate bagels and drank coffee and grape juice. Again, as at the other parish, we are a diverse group of souls of many ages and cultures.  Anne Marie began the lesson by talking with us  about how the Ten Commandments, the eight Beatitudes, and the seven Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy are all tied together. Again, my son and I heard about how we are the Body of Christ here in the world.

And then, a guest speaker: Joe Baricelli, a senior at Rutgers who also is president of the Rutgers Catholic Center next door. He talked about his childhood in Queens and in New Jersey and he told compelling stories about the mission trip with the Catholic Center and the Brotherhood of Hope, a religious community of Catholic lay brothers, to  Tanzania He told us families that we needn't go to Tanzania to be the face of Christ to someone: befriend a difficult classmate or lend a hand to an elderly neighbor.

Joe also mentioned the center is collecting powdered baby formula for their upcoming mission trip to Tanzania. As my son and all the other the children were preparing sandwiches for a lunch program for homeless city residents, I talked to Joe to find out a bit more about the request. He said the mothers are unable to breastfeed because they are HIV positive and that the missions they work with in Tanzania provide clean bottled water and powdered formula to help them feed their babies safely.

Then I asked my girlfriend Judy about what we had missed at our own Mass and she said the homily in part talked about a troubling bill that just passed New Jersey Assembly's Health and Senior Service's Committee, an assisted-suicide bill. This bill - which would need a popular vote for approval - would enable physicians to legally prescribe lethal doses of medication to patients. Judy and I talked about the frailty of the dying and how all of us, every last one, has value, no matter what state of life we are in. Abortion, assisted suicide and capital punishment, on the surface, are "easy" solutions to confronting our own humanity and to assisting others in need. 

We talked about her son's upcoming surgery and how her husband, Dan , mentioned he has asked our parish to offer three Masses for his safety and health. Family Catechesis  ended with a prayer and with Anne Marie reminding us to try to be the face of Christ wherever we go.

I came home and considered how beautiful and how counter-cultural our faith is and how much I cling to Christ so I might become the person I was created to be. And then I thought about something I had read recently by Heather King, the essayist, about the value of Lent and how it had rung so true.

The goal is not to get something to happen for us, but to surrender our will and our lives so that, through us, something good or hopeful can happen for other people.

Afterwards, I thought how that is the goal of work, relationships, and all of life. When you're married, you may not feel like being faithful, but you're faithful out of love--not love as a melting emotion, but love as a choice, love as a policy almost. 

There is something in it for us, too, of course. There will be enough money, enough time, enough love for us. But we get to make the goal other people...

Heather King 


  1. It sounds like quite a day, one filled with diversity and fullness! Very Catholic!

    And if you can get to see Brother Mickey, please do so.

    And Heather King, ahhhh! Love her work.

  2. Wow! All that and bagels too! What a great day, and what a great mom to take your son to Mass at a different parish. It is so important for kids to see that the Church includes the wider neighborhood, city, state, country, continent and planet!

    I also love Heather King's writing!