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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blessings in Disguise

Rich and I have had three main priests since we first started dating. Each one of them has had a ministry that was marked by a particular aspect of our faith. It wasn't that they didn't live out or teach the other parts, but somehow their focus and example really was on these particular areas. Under each of these men, we have learned a great deal and grown in our faith because of their teaching and lives. Fr. Bryce taught us about faithfulness and obedience, even under extraordinary pressure and in the most difficult circumstances, perhaps especially in those. Fr. Vic taught us about prayerfulness and trust. Fr. Joseph taught us about holiness and service. For that, we will always be indebted to those men.

I promised a post describing the good that has already begun to spring from our loss this summer. I've been trying to organize my thoughts, and I may not do a good job of it, but here are the things that struck me during that last mass together in August, and some of the things we've seen since then. I've been trying to round out my thoughts and put them together in a clear way, but in some ways I think it's just rough still, and I will write it anyway.

One of the things I love about the liturgy is that it forces you outside of yourself. It's not just how you think or feel about God, it is what the entire history of the Church has thought and felt about God, and how He has revealed Himself to us. It also makes you acknowledge truths that you may not be feeling, and allows you to confront the fact that it is truth, even if you aren't sure at that moment. Just this past week I had a morning when I told Rich I wasn't feeling particularly holy and prepared for leading Morning Prayer with our children (we had a late start, and Rich had to go to work and the children were acting up), and his response was that maybe that was kind of the point of the Daily Office: It makes us read and speak the truth whether we feel it or not, and can return us to that feeling by reminding us of that same truth.

Anyway. There were several lines in the mass on our last Sunday with Fr. Joe that we say every week, that I believe and know and can recite without reading from the book. They just struck me particularly that Sunday.

Each week we pray a set of prayers called the Prayers of the People, they are prayers for the church, for peace, for our world, for the sick, the poor, for leaders of governments, for those who travel, for the departed and for the needs of the local community and congregation. There are several forms, but a parish often uses one or two more regularly than the others. In this form, the priest says:

Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church;

and the people reply:

That we all may be one.

And I was struck that one day the Church will be united. It has existed as one body in history and I hope for that to be manifest again one day. I pray almost daily for East and West to reunite. I figure if they can work out their differences, then I can submit to their authority and just try to work through the things that are hard for me to accept. So, even though our priest was leaving for the East, I knew that the Body of Christ was united in the Church Triumphant, and I could hope for the unification of the Church here on earth. It was a realization that we need not despair.

Part of the eucharistic prayer goes like this:

From age to age you gather a people to yourself so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.

The mind of the Church has always interpreted this to mean the fulfillment of OT prophecy in the continual offering of the mass throughout the world. That is true, there is not a moment in the day when the mass isn't being offered somewhere in the world. However the idea of East to West made an impact on me that it had not ever before. That this offering was being made from East to West, not just in one or the other.

I was near tears and choked up for pretty much the entire day. I did cry a little during the service and afterward when we were sending them off and eulogizing. However, I found that the one time during the day that I could not be sad was during the Eucharist. There was joy there. No sadness of mine or of our family or of our church could trump the grace, mercy and goodness of what Christ offered for us. The joy that bubbled up inside me during that part of the mass was a surprise and a good reminder to me to keep things in perspective. I literally could not be depressed during the Eucharist, I was too full of joy and thankfulness.

When it came time to sing the Agnus Dei, and the part where we sing about the Lamb of God who takes away sin of the world, it helped me to think that there will come a time when all sin will no longer exist. When our personal missteps, when our unlawful choices, when our willful rebellion will come under the authority and the majesty of God. We will be given eyes to see the truth, completely, not with our limited vision which has been distorted ever since the Fall, and to finally stand in righteousness before our God and King.

Our post communion hymn was One Bread, One Body, and again it was a sign to me of the reality of the union of believers. The body of Christ cannot be divided, and yet on this earth it is. It is a paradox we live in, and it was good to be reminded that although we would not be sharing a church with our priest and his family anymore, we were still companions in the Church universal.

We really are coming to have hope from despair, though it is by no means easy. It still hurts. Our parish is much smaller than it used to be, and it was already small. We are still not operating at full strength, but we are still working together and praying together. I am pleased that we were able to let the Ramos know how much we love them and honor them. I know it was hard for them to be leaving as well.

There were many touching moments, and I won't relive them here. However, one thing that really touched Rich, and me, was that Fr. Joseph took Rich aside to give him his Daily Office books. He said that in any other circumstances, he would have done anything to work with Rich in the church, and that he knew that Rich was going to make an outstanding deacon. It was high praise from a man we respect and love, whose teaching and example have been so edifying.

We were pleased that Fr. Joseph was able to talk to our bishop and leave on good terms. The bishop told him how sorrowful he was to be losing such a good priest and that if he ever changed his mind, we would be happy to have him back. Rich said he knew it wouldn't be enough to change everything and have it be back to normal, but it was nice that a door that had been locked was now simply closed. Who knows what the future will bring?

A friend of ours in GA told me, after I had moaned to her how every service had been like a funeral for two months, that the real healing happens when the funeral is over. That is when you are able to go through the grief, and not just brace yourself against the coming sadness. I think this is true. The hardest part is still our children's response. Elijah keeps asking when Christopher will be back, and I still remember the tears from the night we told them, and Dominic and Elijah asking why we couldn't just follow the Ramos to their new church.

Although this whole situation has been painful and difficult, we are much more hopeful as a family and as a church, and we are healing. People are still able to visit with the Ramos, there isn't an overwhelming sense of anger. We are disappointed, but I am excited to see what the Lord has for us.

For now, what looks like a farewell is really an until we meet again. I only pray that our paths will cross sooner than later. I pray for the unity of the Church.

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Psalm 30:4-Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.

5-For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
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