Photo by Bridget Touhey
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
BY: ASHLEY BLACKBURN
Welcome Home! That’s the phrase of the day today as Catholic Churches all over different Diocese’s open back up for Mass. As I sat in my parish early this morning, I did indeed feel home. This familiar parish is where my family and I have lived out our Catholic Faith and worshiped God for over 10 years. But this homecoming for me was not ideal and I imagine for most of us when we return to our first Mass, it will be the same.
In an ideal world, I imagine us all going back to Mass and it is a full house. The priests would be on fire with the Holy Spirit, the parishioners would be humble and open to receiving all that the Holy Spirit has in store for them. Although emotionally spent from having spent the past 10 weeks with no Mass, no Eucharist, no liturgy, parishioners would be ready with a new heart to worship the Holy Trinity again in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receive Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity into our souls and into our bodies. The liturgy would be full of praise, with a deep, deep longing for what we have been away from for so long. Parishioners would enter into the sanctuary and immediately fall to our knees as they realize the real presence of Jesus Christ, in their midst, their bodies reacting to the soul’s recognition. I imagined the mass having a very genuine and deeply reverent feel to it as all the souls present are groaning in unison in their yearning to be with Jesus again in the Eucharist. One day I actually saw this Mass in prayer and as the priest lifted up the host at the consecration, the hearts of the faithful were inflamed with the fire of Christ’s LOVE for us, the love of the Sacrifice of the Cross. There was light shooting out from every angle of the newly consecrated host as it was lifted up and we all were able to truly GAZE upon the Lord, fully present in our midst. Then as we approach the altar to receive our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist, we again would fall to our knees, as an act of surrender of our entire selves with an openness of fully receiving HIM so that he may complete in us what is lacking. A genuinely humble reception of the Lord, recognizing our littleness and the absolute Greatness of God!
Unfortunately, this is not an ideal situation and we do not live in a perfect world. Today we still have a lot of people walking around in a tremendous amount of fear. Fear is an emotion and thus it was given to us by God, but as with all of our emotions, we are made to use our emotions for good. Fear is used to make us aware of danger. To alert us to something that could harm us and to get us to move into action. But our emotions can also lead us away from God. Fear for example can be distorted by the devil, who can use it to speak lies to us. Fear, when it is not ordered toward God can lead us to freeze and not be able to move, to get stuck and not be able to make decisions, and to cloud our perceptions and thus our decisions. This distorted emotion of fear is plaguing the world at this time.
Coupled with this, we have the irrational judgement that each one of us has fallen into. “Social” media has done a great job of helping us to get where we are today, thus we have a heightened focus on opinion and a lack of focus on facts. Through social media, we can read post after post of our “friends” opinions on various things. Add in a world-wide pandemic and an overload of fear and you have a perfect storm of judgement flying left and right.
When did this shift happen? When did we become more focused on our opinions, to the point of fighting with complete strangers for days to try to prove our point, which we believe to be true, rather than focusing on GOD’s Will, which is the only absolute truth in this world? We have fallen into a trap where we believe WE as individuals are the only ones who hold the Truth, when in reality only GOD does. God is the judge of all of us and His judgement is perfect. We should certainly admonish the sinner when the Holy Spirit prompts us to, as this is one of the spiritual works of mercy, but we should not be judging the sinner. And by judging, I mean specifically puffing our own selves up by pointing out the faults of others without charity. If God, in his mercy, points out the fault of our friend, we should begin by getting on our knees and praying for them. Then and only then, IF God asks us to admonish the sinner, we should be obedient to His Will, but in all kindness and mercy, upholding the dignity of the other.
In the midst of all the world is going through right now, all of these things are inevitably going to be carried on our backs into Mass as the doors open back up and the priests cry out “Welcome Home!” As we go back to Mass, we will surely feel this dysfunction. We will see it physically in the family being scattered about in the pews; Mom’s and Dad’s splitting up to go to Mass and keeping kids at home. Our elderly perhaps completely missing from the community, with no recourse to the Sacraments. We will also feel this as we are forced to make tough choices that result in our having to choose whether or not to go against our conscience. Should I receive on the tongue or not? Should I wear a mask or not? And all parameters that are promoted as simple acts of charity to save physical lives, actually become an interior and much heavier cross to bear upon souls who wonder about faith, sin and salvation. Not to mention all of the physical distractions of masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, taped pews, arrows, ushers, and many more that we will happening as we return. These things are a reflection of all this baggage we have been carrying around with us for many years. A very visible and transparent display of the state of our church, and we are left wondering how to overcome this and be healed?
As I sat in mass today, before it even started, I genuinely thought, I don’t even want to be here. Seemingly the same thing I would say if I were wounded and were coming home to a highly dysfunctional family. Being faced with the reality of our dysfunction is going to be hard. Realizing my own wounds and how I have participation in the dysfunction is going to be a struggle. But as these thoughts of despair of not wanting to be church under these conditions flooded over me, I was able to recognize it and quickly turn my gaze back to the Lord.
The reality is that we are not fully back home, and I dare to say we may not ever be back home in the way that we were before here on this earth. When you have dysfunction in a family, it does not just go away on its own. Time does not in fact heal all wounds. What does heal wounds is Jesus Christ our Savior. We must recognize that Jesus has led us to this place so that we can be healed as a Church. We are in this most uncomfortable place because he wants to weed out what is dysfunctional with the Church.
Our hope in all this lies in the fact that he walks with us, Jesus walks with the Church, His Bride. We as a Church have been doing things wrong, I think we all can admit there were many things wrong with the Church before this pandemic. So, in true biblical fashion, we have been exiled from our churches. Jesus knows that this is for our own good. It was not by chance that this happened to the Chosen People in the Old Testament and it is not by chance that this is happening to us now.
After the exile, we must return home and it will feel different for us. But this is not a reason to NOT come back home, back to the Mass. It is not a reason to come back and return judgment for judgement. It is not a reason to take our eyes off of Christ. Jesus desires for us to come back into the midst of our dysfunction and to see it in a new light, to see it in HIS light. He wants us to sit in it and to feel the dysfunction so that we can fully realize that we want to be healed. What if he wants us to truly experience all the distractions that we now have in the Mass in hopes that we will be led to be completely purified. The only way to heal a wound is to clean it out, which is often very painful, then to assess the damage, which can be hard to bear, and finally to let the healing salve of God’s grace to enter into the wound, in order for it to be fully restored.
If you know anything about a deep wound, you know that it doesn’t ever look the same as it did before you were wounded. Often times a scar remains, just as Jesus’ wounds remain after the resurrection. One thing we can count on is that the healing itself is miraculous. After we have recognized and cared for the wound, the healing often takes place on its own. The same is true for our spiritual wounds. We must recognize the wound, then care for it, through forgiveness and prayer, then all that is left to do is to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to do the healing. This is proof of the goodness of God. I charge us all at this moment, as we enter back into our churches, to be gentle with yourself and with others. There will be discomfort. This is not going to be easy for anyone, but we must be willing to humble ourselves, keep our eyes on Christ, and find Jesus amongst all the distractions. Because HE IS THERE and he has been waiting for YOU to return to him. He wants nothing more than to be united with you again in the Holy Eucharist, where he can continue to heal, protect, encourage, love, and complete you. He wants nothing more than to bring you his peace in a very real way, so that you may go out into the world and bring that peace with you as you go.