Restless night in a hotel. Bad coffee. Unknown parish. Architecture from the 60s—white walls, strange angles, ambiguous stained glass. Pews of cheap wood stretch forward to the sanctuary. A candle burns before the tabernacle.
An empty pew stands out, halfway up on the left. Coat off, kneeler down. Five minutes for prayer.
Opening announcement. They’re raising money here too? First strains of a mediocre hymn.
New place, new people, unknown a day ago. Still, it’s all familiar.
The readings, the Word—always of a bit of tense anticipation for the homily. Milquetoasty. After the poor opening joke, time for a blank expression, reflection on the Gospel, and some Hail Marys.
A young family carries up the gifts. The usher couldn’t resist asking them—they show there’s life in this Church yet. They’re here for the same reason you’re here.
They’re here because there was life here already. “A church in which the eternal light is burning before the tabernacle is always alive, is always something more than a building made of stone. In this place the Lord is always waiting for me” (Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy).
Now this life is made manifest once again on the altar. Shuffling feet up the aisle. “The Body of Christ.” No flash of insight or flight to the third heaven, but the presence of a friend. “You are here; I am here.” Back to the pew for a few moments of home away from home. Too bad the surroundings don’t echo the transcendence of the gift, but the gift comes nonetheless. “The Father sent the Son” (1 Jn 4:14). “Christ offered himself to God” (Heb 9:14). From the Father, back to the Father. Eternal communion in a moment of time, in a town far away from home.
Ugh, but these surroundings. Tacky and boring? Sure, in one way. But here is the eternal day that underlies the everyday and redeems the everyday. He is always here, loving and patient, waiting to be loved. He is always noticing and offering himself to be noticed.
The day of the Lord come and gone in a town miles from home. Many hours before the familiar driveway appears by the familiar mailbox on the side of the road. Yet today the heavens opened and the Lord whose day redeems time came again to pull back the veil of this world of shadows and to reveal the light of his face.
Photo by miltritter