No, this isn't a new liturgical feast that you haven't heard of, it is because I twice tonight found myself crying in Church, and was straining to contain my tears.
My normal Sunday routine is to wake up early, not as early as I set my alarm, but as soon after that as my youngest makes his way into my room, I get up because I need to prepare to teach my 1st and 2nd graders Religion School. I was so happy when I saw the computer clock and realized I had an extra hour due to the clock going back. Yey! I ended up preparing enough for 2 classes, but I didn't realize that until I had 5 minutes remaining and still had half of the first lesson and its questions remaining.
My youngest is in my class and he is one of the youngest, if not the youngest in the class since he has a late summer birthday. He got up several times during the class. He wanted to be my helper passing out things, because he is the teacher's son. Only problem is three of the other 5 kids in class wanted to be a helper too. If I were a real teacher I would have anticipated this on the first day and made a schedule of helpers, but I am not.
We start each class by praying the "O Heavenly King" which is a Catholic Eastern rite/Orthodox prayer invoking the Holy Spirit.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things, and Giver of life: come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every sin, and save our souls, O Good One!
After this I added, "Holy Spirit, I entrust these children to your teaching. I pray that you will take the task of teaching and touching each of them today according to your will, that you will lead each of them in knowledge, wisdom, and to holiness."
I had to stop twice while praying this because my own son was doing sound effects something between a sheep and a train.
I am also rather clueless when I prepare at how the material is going to go over at the 6-9 year old level this class covers. The 9 year old is brilliant and absolutely loves the Bible, and all things we talk about in class. The girls seem to like crafts! I prepared a handout on how to read scripture as the love letter from God that it is to each of us, but didn't realize the vocabulary was at a 10th grade level until a first grader stumbled on 4 words before making it through the first sentence in the second paragraph. I suspected that the "Prayer Before Reading Scripture" from St. John Chrysostom was a little thick for their young minds, so I put the definitions for sojourner and perceive at the bottom of the page. We didn't make it to the prayer though, because the first essay took a bit for me to paraphrase into 1st and 2nd grade ease on the fly. I'll save the prayer for next week. I think it is St. John Chrysostom's feast day so it will be perfect!
I did seem to get more of a clue while reading the Gospel passage about the healing of Jairus's daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage. I explained to them that Jesus wasn't angry with the woman who sneaked up and touched him, with faith knowing that this would heal her, but he wanted her to fess up so that he could speak to her in love, and heal the hurt that was inside of her because of a disease that made her unclean, an outcast, and also unable to visit and pray in the synagogue or temple. I spoke the words that he said to her to the girls first, telling them to think of Jesus calling them Daughter, and instead of "Your faith has healed you go in peace"; "Daughter, I love you. Be filled with peace." Then I looked at the boys, and said the same, but calling them "Sons." I asked them, doesn't that make it different when instead of picturing Jesus looking on some woman from 2000 years ago with love and touching her soul in a way that no one else could see, that you instead picture him looking at you now as you are reading or hearing this with love, and calling you with a word that already means so much to you, "Daughter", "Son". There were lots of big eyes, and it looked like some of them were starting to get it.
The homily today was on the same Gospel reading, I used in class. I find my own kids actually listen to the Gospel later if I cover it during class. My own sound effect producing child stopped, large eyes and was smiling when he heard the familiar words again this time being sung by our priest.
The priest stressed the importance of love, forgiveness, prayer, reading scripture, and understanding that it isn't what we do that will bring us to holiness, it is what the grace of God does inside of us. That last part was precisely the message of the 2nd lesson I prepared for this morning, but we didn't have time to cover. That God could do all things, including making us holy.
Sometimes that seems bigger than healing a hemorrhage or raising a 12 year old from the dead. How does God bring us to holiness? I wonder what the maze that he brought me through will look like when I view it after this life is over. I wonder how many times I cooperated with him, and how many other times, even after an outpouring of his grace, I went back to being cold to the people around me, too preoccupied with my own schedule to be present to the ones I love most in my own family, or too undisciplined to get adequate rest to pray and meditate so I actually grow in knowledge and love of the one who loves me so much, so that I might serve Him better.
My oldest daughter, who is supposed to be my assistant for crafts, but didn't quite make it out the door in time for the latest possible moment that I could leave and be there at the start of class for the little ones. So she also missed going to church. Justin Fatica from Hard As Nails MInistry was speaking at a parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago tonight. I happened to find this out, by chance, this week. No one else from our parish wanted to go, but since my daughter missed church, and it would only be an extra hour and a half for her to hear the 2nd part of his talk and go to Mass, I thought it would be worth it.
There was a little ruckus as I was going. This usually signals to me, as it has been a re-occurrence, that the evil one would like me to not go. Since I recognize it now, I tend to dig in my heels, even if I was only half-way committed to going (I could have taken her to a local parish with a 5:30 Mass), and off we went.
I am not sure yet what she got out of it, but at the close of his talk he had a 13, maybe 14 year old boy whose name started with A, to stand at the front of the church and asked anyone that had ever struggled with the challenge of death to come up and hug him. About 40 or so different teenage kids from all over that church came up and gave that kid a hug. I started thinking Justin must know that this kid is sick and might die. He is letting this kid know he is loved, and also this kid, so filled with hope and love for God is hugging all those coming up to hug him. He said that too, "A, you have no idea how much you are helping these others. Thank you." Then Justin said if there is anyone that is having challenges, and he enumerated some--been hurt, and can't forgive, acting unkindly to someone close to you, etc. Soon there were another 40 or so that came up to hug him.
I was crying, hard. I don't know if anyone noticed, but the spigots were open. I didn't want to dwell on why I was feeling this way, it just was a bit overwhelming. At the same time I was crying I was thanking the Holy Spirit for giving me a tender heart. I don't think it is my temperament to be tenderhearted, which is why I so clearly see it as the work of God's grace within me.
Prior to this final part of his talk, Justin had told the crowd that Mass wasn't boring, if it was boring to us, then we were boring. He said we needed to 1) Bring our sins to the foot of the cross, 2) Bring our challenges, 3) Bring what we are thankful for, 4) Seek the inspiration and messages we can give to others, 5) Receive the strength of Christ that comes with receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist. He also stressed need for Confession. They had that available to them earlier in the day before we arrived. He also encouraged them to pray the rosary and to make the Consecration to Jesus through Mary as St. Louis de Montefort taught. He told them to Google that.
The kids really loved Justin. It was loud in the Church. Lots of clapping and then a Mass with lots of Praise, "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" music. I think it was piano and not guitars, and this would be enough to set the traditionalist in me back, if I weren't more of an eclectic, Roman Catholic practicing Byzantine Catholic lover of Christ than a traditionalist, and seemingly bitter Catholic. I don't mind praise music, even drums. I do get a little off-put when rain sticks are used. The only thing that really gets me hot is heresy from the pulpit, when a priest at one of our local parishes tried to sell us some concoction about the feeding of the 5000 really being about people sharing their lunches. Yes, that did make me bitter.
The celebrant for Mass also did not disappoint me. His homily was very close to that of my own pastor this morning. "If you want to grow closer to Christ, you have to spend time talking with him, you have to spend time with him." Then pointing at the altar he said, "This isn't just a symbol up here either. Here on this altar (and he said altar not table) the host is going to become the real body and blood of Jesus. And do you know who said that?" He paused a moment so folks could think Pope so and so, or Mother Teresa or someone. Then he says, "Jesus says it. He said it in the Gospel when he told us to do this in memory of Him." Perfect. Good for you Father!
I forgot to mention that during this blessed moment of the homily, my 6 year old was drawing pictures on his mini-legal pad of John the Baptist with his head on a platter. Multiple pictures of it. This is because 7 hours earlier at our church he was asking about that icon, stained glass window. Boys! They always seem to dwell and draw the more violent images. My oldest daughter 15 and I just looked at each other shaking our heads.
The priest had also said much about our need to put in the hard work, and I thought that was possibly overlooking the transforming of our souls through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, but the choir--which was open to whomever in the audience wanted to sing as part of the choir that night--righted the ship on this one fast. Our closing song was Matt Maher's "Your Grace is Enough"!
My final tears of the night were during the second verse of that song, when a woman about 15 years my senior went to the four teenage boys behind us, and talking over the singing said, "I have never been more proud of you boys than I was tonight." I don't know who she was, who they were relative to her, what she was proud of, or what, but I just started crying. They did look like good kids, they were praying, and at least one of the four was singing. I just know that her going over there to them to tell them she was proud of them made me cry. I love to sing, but I was too choked up to sing the rest of it. I was proud to be Catholic and to be there that night. Here we were all "loving on the Lord and each other" (this is how the Protestants at my kids' school talk), and we were in a Catholic Church completing our worship at Holy Mass.
I brought my little St. John the Baptist cartoon artist to the table where they were selling some of Justin's books and videos. He picked out a video on the rosary, and a rubber bracelet. I tried to get my daughter to ask me to buy the book, but it seems I was more impacted by the talk and the Mass than she was. I bought the book anyway, and I know she'll read it, because if it has a cover and words inside and is near her bed at night, she'll read it.
Guess who wanted to watch the video and prayed all 5 Glorious Mysteries tonight? My 6 year old. Oh man I love him for that! I prayed them with him. I have four children and I think I've only prayed the full 5 mysteries with one of them before, and he was 12 at the time. The video only features Justin on one mystery, but it holds his attention because it has a different Catholic "star" praying each of the 20 mysteries. It really holds his attention. It also has Religious art, and some still sketches that they put motion to that also helped with the attention issue. He didn't make sheep/train noises once.