A desperate urge to pitch a tent
The priest has just delivered one of the best homilies you have heard in a long time; it really hits home. Summed up a few thoughts you have had; answered a couple of niggling questions; posed a personal challenge. What a homily.
What’s more, he confidently strolled around the sanctuary, didn’t use notes and scarcely missed a beat in the full 10 minutes.
Now that’s why I come every week, you think to yourself.
The problem is that it’s not in your parish church and it’s not your parish priest. It’s not in your city and, as in our case recently, it’s not even in your country.
To make matters worse, or better, depending on how you’re coping, it happens the next Sunday in another city, another parish.
And if that’s not enough, the music ministry is smooth, sparklingly alive, professional. The congregation responds well. People around you are engaged, singing.
If only, you think…
Its beauty brought tears to my eyes and a certain internal confusion.
Afterwards I was moved to do something unusual, for me, and that was to approach the music makers and praise them for their contribution, their skill, their passionate involvement, their obvious love for what they do. They were delighted. I explained to them that in our small country parish a long, long way away, we get by in our own more simple way each Sunday.
One of them asked, “Why did you choose St Finbar’s this Sunday?” I had picked it off a map, and the fact it had Mass in English at a time we could attend. We had nearly gone somewhere else.
Perhaps it was then that it struck me. I could decide it was just pure luck, inspired choice on my part, or gift from God.
I felt it was the last one.
It was gift. Amazing, uplifting, inspiring, touching, wonderful gift, and I had a desperate urge to pitch a tent and stay rather than get on a plane and fly home.
The default response for me has generally been to grouch about the fact that our music isn’t as good, our priests don’t preach as well, our parishes aren’t as alive. Wouldn’t it be great if we were just better at it?
The answer could be ‘yes’. But it is probably ‘no’.
Our own communities are usually life-giving, imperfect, sometimes annoying, occasionally disappointing, but life-giving. Importantly, they are ours, where we can choose to contribute in our own way.
From time to time we have an experience elsewhere that is so uplifting that we wish we could experience it regularly. We descend into comparison when we would do better to look up and rejoice and say ‘thanks’ to a God who would be smiling and rejoicing that we had seen the point.
My late-year resolution is to try not to grind my teeth at the idiosyncrasies of my own or anyone else’s parish when I attend Mass. And, perhaps, more importantly to seek to enjoy and find meaning in the points of difference we have, rather than pick out the bits that annoy or frustrate me.
It means I will have to try to appreciate more what I have.
That doesn’t mean that, next time I visit Los Angeles, I won’t be going back to St Finbar’s.
Geoff Orchison was the Editor of the Catholic Voice from 1994 to 2014