Without the Mass and amongst the masses…
I finally shaved my beard. It was a hideous patchwork of multicolored scruff that’s only full around my neck. I have red hairs in my beard, Lord knows why since I’m dishwater-blond and most of my facial hair comes out black. Anyway, I grew out this embarrassment as a sort of silent protest or sign of mourning for not being able to attend Mass. It was an idea borne in those first days of the suspension of Masses.
We sought the creator in his creation, that first Sunday without Mass, and found ourselves as one of the masses hiking at the nearby open space park. Was a stash of toilet paper at the top, since the line of hikers was so long? The scenery was pockmarked with little green and black bags of dog poo. Dogs defecating, sniffing, and barking while pulling their humans around. Instead of listening to God’s song in the rush of the breeze through trees or the call of birds in the brush, I listened to the warbling of a group of girls dressed for the club rather than a mountain trail. My youngest son was slower than they, so we let them pass and were enveloped in their discussion on how much tequila the one turning thirty would drink on her special day. We caught up with them later (although we were never without their voices) as one had to adjust her shoes, or another wanted to shout compliments at nature. On passing them the third time one asked me to take a picture of her group, to which I demurred severely. “Oh, never mind. Sorry, forget about it,” said one. This time we picked up our pace and left them behind for the remainder of our trek. New groups gossiped and giggled within earshot. At the top, we had a wonderful view of Denver’s western suburbs. My boys saw our neighborhood. I looked for a reason to be joyful and found none.
Failure. I hope those girls thought I hesitated to snap their photos because of health concerns. Folks who know me will tell you that when I choose to be an [standoffish person] I always give a memorable performance. These girls were enjoying a sunny day. Why scorn them for their happiness you jealous bastard? Even now as we go out to parks to hike or play, I see everyone smiling and cheerful and think: What the Hell is wrong with you people? Don’t you know it’s a national emergency? Everything is closed! We can’t even attend Mass during Holy Week! Am I the only person in mourning here!
At first, I ascribed the population’s indifference to a churchless sabbath to the widespread and very liberal interpretation of having a “personal relationship” with God. This interpretation would be the kind that suggests churches and priests aren’t even necessary — something the bible refutes in many instances. Here’s two:
“But, if I am delayed, you should know the manner in which it is necessary to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and the foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15)”
Paul wasn’t referring to just any place you felt in tune with the ‘universe’, but a specifically consecrated space run by a priesthood installed by Christ at Pentecost.
“Therefore, he said to them again: ‘Peace to you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them. And he said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Those whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and those whose sins you shall retain, they are retained’ (Jn 20:21–23).”
But I’m not looking to have that debate, today. What I’m getting at is this: I was disturbed to see how happy everyone was these past few Sundays. Some I figured were protestant, or liberal spiritualists, different faiths maybe, and of course others were probably just plain-old agnostics and atheists. It stuck in my craw. If they only knew who unhappy they should be, not comprehending the importance of The Church and all…
Last Wednesday we went for a hike at a different open space park, and I had a bit of a ‘Grinch moment’ as I looked down on dirt bikes and hikers traversing the trails as the sun began to set behind the front range mountains; my heart grew three sizes with the sudden realization that it was I who’d been handling everything wrong thus far. We should be joyful. I have heard the Gospel, THE GOOD NEWS, who am I to be walking around moping with a ridiculous patchy reddish-black beard? You’re not going to be able to share the Gospel or represent The Church by going around pouting. People don’t like pouting (when they aren’t the ones doing it that is). And if the non-believers are walking around happier than I am…well what does that say about my faith?
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice (Philippians 4:4).”
Joy. Letting our light shine for others, as Christ said to do. This is how we guide people to God. And if we aren’t being the happiest people around, knowing we are inheritors of a glorious eternity, what’s wrong with us?
*HYPOCRISY ALERT! HYPOCRISY ALERT!*
What’s wrong with me? I’m not the most cheerful of folk, what’s the deal? I have some documented medical conditions and other scars and disappointments that — “WHO DOESN’T?” Yep, I choose to be (or remain) unhappy sometimes, and there’s no excuse for that considering my blessings. If you’re anything like me the best thing I can recommend in these depressing times is a healthy amount of self-evangelization. Here are my favorite sites to look for an attitude adjustment on:
Formed is an unbelievable resource when it comes to studying and finding joy. There is no aspect of the faith you can’t learn about through their massive video and audio offering.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen “Life is Worth Living”
This is a shortcut to the YouTube collection of Archbishop Sheen’s telecasts. They are timeless, and his advice and perspective make sense even more today. If you don’t know Archbishop Sheen, here’s my endorsement: I look forward to meeting him in heaven more than I do any of my author, actor, or athletic heroes.
This is a recent find of mine, I heard about it on Catholic Answers a couple of weeks ago. This podcast is a Godsend for sci-fi and paranormal nuts like me. Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious world has been especially enjoyable because it’s easy to rope my teenager into listening to it, too. I think everyone thirsts for examples of the exceptional and supernatural in the world. Jimmy Akin and Dom Bettinelli investigate some of the most engaging topics from the perspective of faith and reason. Don’t think you can learn about the Catholic faith by investigating the existence of Aliens? Think again.
On Thursday, I shaved my crappy hair growth (beard isn’t an accurate description) because now is the time to show joy in the face of adversity. But, let’s be honest, if I were the naturally bubbly type I wouldn’t need to coach myself up so often. When I won’t walk out with an alleluia smile on my face, there is something I can do without giving up that solemn disposition I cling to so often — I can exercise mercy. If someone is out there doing something that I don’t find suitable considering the circumstances, I can choose not to cast stones. Christ didn’t always walk around smiling or laughing, but he did (and does) always extend mercy. Even in the moment of most supreme suffering and distress:
“And when they arrived at the place that is called Calvary, they crucified him there, with the robbers, one to the right and the other to the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.’ And truly, dividing his garments, they cast lots (Luke 23:33–34).
Mercy. Shave that ridiculous beard and look past yourself. Let people be happy if they are righteously happy. Comfort and pray for those who are justifiably sad, even if that means comforting and praying for yourself. If you can’t always be the light of the world, at least you can choose not to be the bushel cast over someone else’s lamp — this is mercy.