Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
I have a Lent assignment for all of you this week. In the spirit of the new evangelization, consider reaching out to someone in your life who has grown indifferent or even disillusioned with the Catholic faith that they received. Maybe it is a spouse, or a child—or a parent, it happens. Give them a copy of this letter, if it is easier than distilling it into your own words, though that personal witness is always most effective if it comes from your heart and not through an email.
Last week we were challenged with the image of Jesus, transfigured, bright as the sun, a glimpse of God in his glory. Each of us is asked to consider that this same light is within each of us by baptism, whether we realize it or not. We can cover it up, but we can’t put it out. We live in a world where we always pray for more, and more, and more. All these things that we want. But when compared to this light within—well, everything is only a shadow. The fact is, we just don’t think about it enough to realize that we have already received everything. Already. If you have received everything, all that’s left is thanksgiving, which in Greek, is the basis of the word eucharist.
So we already have it all. Through the sunglasses of the world that dim the light, we can be convinced that we are all still so needy. Even when it comes to liturgy. This is to all of you who have left the church because “I just don’t get anything out of it:” Liturgy isn’t about getting, any more. It is about giving, we who have already received everything through the Last Supper and the Cross, Baptism and the new Pentecost of Confirmation. So here is a story that I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately.
At one time in my life, I found myself in Florence for a week. Florence is one of those cities that isn’t highest on many peoples’ list because it is exhausting. You run from one thing to another to see it all, you can never see it all. But I had been there a couple of times before, and this time had the luxury of leisure, and my goal was to discover one thing new each day. It was a Sunday, and I decided to try out a smaller church—not the big tourist experience of the cathedral choir where nobody sings, but a real neighborhood parish church in an old, poorer part of town. I was attracted to this beautiful church because I had walked into it one day and there was a shaft of light that struck the crucifix hanging over the altar in a way that I had never seen before. It stayed with me.
Mass was pretty normal. A not-so-great duo of guitar players strumming out some strange Italian folk song (?) that everybody seemed to know. Here, the congregation sang like crazy. It was a monastic church, I realized, since there were a dozen priests from the community concelebrating in white hooded habits. That shaft of light was back, this time splashing right onto the top of the altar as we prepared to celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice.
I also noticed that there were these huge woven baskets placed across the front of the sanctuary filled with rolls. The church, in fact, smelled like a bakery—that kind of hard, rustic bread that you can only find in Italy—my liturgy police siren went off. Should I leave? What if they consecrate regular bread against the rules? Maybe I should go. But the light on the altar kept me there.
Mass proceeded like normal. Couldn’t understand a word of the homily and loved every minute of it anyway. The light on the altar was so beautiful. The guitar duo persevered, people sang, we received Communion according to the rules. Then a most interesting thing happened. It was as though I suddenly heard the words in my own language (of course, I can understand Spanish which isn’t that much different): “So you must let your light shine among others.”
Before the final blessing the monks gathered around the baskets of that amazing bread as the presider, with holy water, blessed the rolls. The monks carried the baskets to the doors of the church. It was so bright outside, it seemed, looking out from the darker interior. As we left, the monks handed a roll to everyone who had been at Mass. One of them gave me a roll (my mouth was watering) and said, “Now, give to the hungry what you have received.
”I have never experienced a more perfect catechism of what the Mass is about. How beautiful is the plan to which Jesus has called us, it must have a lot of love behind it to have entrusted us with so much, just with the hope that we will realize it and respond with the same kind of love. Let’s not presume for more, let’s be thankful.
God bless you.