I was out of town this weekend & attended Mass at a church that's become my home away from home. Every time I go, there's a different priest presiding. At first I felt kind of annoyed by that, but now I look forward to a new face & a new perspective. Today we met in the gym for some reason- I never found out why. It felt crowded & strange. A very obese man came in with a small boy & asked if he could sit next to me. The entire row was empty, but he literally sat next to me. Suddenly "rubbing elbows" took on a whole new meaning. I listened to him gulp for air every now & then & caught random whiffs of body odor. In front of me, a young family of four filed in. A little girl sat directly ahead of me & was a powerhouse of energy. If she was still for even a moment, I must've missed it. I had to keep scooting my chair forward to maintain my sacred space. An ambo & an altar had been brought in, but it was painfully obvious we weren't in 'Kansas" anymore. It wasn't exactly "Oz" either. Behind the altar, instead of a life sized crucifix, a naked basketball hoop hung suspended from the wall. A couple candles were lit as the priest & a lone altar boy presided. Aside from the crucifix used during the entrance/exit, there was no representation of Christ anywhere. We went through our readings, responses & prayers as usual. It felt strange not to bow to the Virgin Mary during the creed or to abstain from kneeling at the consecration... We stood, said our peace & awkwardly filed up to the front to receive the Eucharist. The wine ran out before I got there, so I walked back to my seat masticating a very dry wafer. It was the Body of Christ (I kept trying to remind myself), but it didn't change the fact that it was painfully difficult to swallow.
All throughout the service, I tried to imagine myself in some foreign country where the luxuries of a dedicated building full of stained glass & icons isn't available. What a blessing it is to go to Mass in a building set aside for that purpose. What a blessing it is to be able to gather with others without fear of persecution or death. What a blessing to be able to share in the sacrifice of Christ in some small way. How much more did Christ suffer for me? And how much more do those without access to religious freedom suffer? I thought about those remote places with no churches, priests or Mass... Some travel hundreds of miles or wait months till they can have any contact with a faith community... Yet I can go to church everyday if I want for Mass & adoration. The Eucharist is readily available to me. I can even go to reconciliation weekly if I need to- its a grace that many others don't have the opportunity to receive.
When the cup runs dry, I pray that I would remember to be thankful for what I DO have... that the representation of Christ is not so much in the outward appearance of art & atmosphere, but in the presence of the people gathered. Christ resides in the hearts of His own... and where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name, there He is in the midst of them.