On Sunday my childhood parish (Catholic-speak for “church”) closed. For good.
Some of my family went to the closing mass. I didn’t. I had attended a different parish that morning, but I drove by hoping to catch the end of the mass. Entering the church triggered a flood of memories.
I meant to walk towards the right side of the church…for better pictures. Yet, I didn’t. My mind drove my body towards the left, the same path my family walked for the years we attended.
It was Thanksgiving Weekend. I realized that when I was a first-grader I made my First Communion on Thanksgiving Day. My parents thought of the idea (“Eucharist” …”Thanksgiving” …serious props in the creativity department) and I sat in the front row with itchy white gloves (the love affair started young!) and received the Body and Blood for the first time.
I thought about this.
I remember when my youngest brother, Josh, was baptized at the parish. My parents took him to the front and I didn’t know if I was supposed to go with them or stay in the pew. I thought I was screwing up EVERYTHING and everyone was watching (real talk: Catholic masses can be tricky with all the standing-and-sitting). Reality: I was four. No one was watching. 🙂
I remember when Paul and Christine made their First Communions, when I made my First Reconciliation, when David and I were confirmed. I remember the crèche in the back of the church for Christmas, the smell of the lilies at Easter.
There was more, though. The parish had flaws. I realize them now that I’m older. The financial management was shaky. The leadership, while it probably meant well, failed in areas. These factors and many others led to the closing of a once-vibrant community.
It’s a sad picture of church, isn’t it? “They tried, but they were broken.”
There is a lot of emotion around this reality: a lot of pain, anger and hurt. I can’t say I blame people for these feelings.
On Sunday I walked to the front to kiss the altar–a part of the closing ceremony–I realized that what I remember most about the church is the inside of the pews. Seriously.
I remember the way they felt: the texture, the smooth shine of the varnish. I remember their smell and their strength. Why? Probably because, when one is standing to pray and under the age of seven, that’s what one can see. I used to watch baby Josh scoot his happy self across the seat of those pews, I used to move the kneelers up and down with my sister during the service.
On Monday I came back to work. I have plants in my office because I love nature, I pretend like they make the air better, and (truthfully) people have gifted me.
My desk is not well suited for plants. I’m far from natural light. I don’t have any heat source nearby (I must commandeer heat from the surrounding offices). And yet, there was all kinds of new growth! Baby leaves right and left! I wanted to kiss my plant, I was so happy.
It then struck me that, despite all the bad things that were happening around us, God still works miracles. Even in imperfect settings with flawed circumstances, God dishes out the grace and works wonders. Hallelujah.
I grew up in a church where people were broken and the liturgy was faulty. By the grace of God, all of my sibs and I have encountered Jesus.
Side note while I say: IS THIS NOT THE BEST MIRACLE??
Today I’m hammering out ideas for Advent, a season that will be upon us before we know it. The candles in an Advent wreath proclaim hope, faith, joy, and peace. This, friends, is what I know: hope, faith, joy, and peace.
Yeah, I’ve seen and experienced the broken and the hurt. I’ll bet you have too. But, God still works, still grows things, still touches lives. He’s a master gardener working with fragile hearts, and He can use our poor excuses for dirt/ community/ family/ church/ you-name-it to grow wonderful things.
Remember these words: hope, faith, joy, and peace.
To close, I’ll leave you with this verse from the First Reading on from the Second Sunday of Advent (Baruch 5):