One of the things I enjoy doing is reading in church.
I have been a bit removed from the Catholic faith in the past few years due to it's direction and the church becoming more inclusive and less appealing to those who have a different point of view about what the church doctrine is.
In my heart of hearts I believe Jesus loves everyone, regardless of who they love or who they are. It seems the new pope is more concerned with what the church is rather than what it isn't.
I guess that's the more liberal side of me talking.
I guess you can say I'm not as religious as I should be, but I am a very spiritual man and have been for most of my life. My mother was a big believer in going to church and while I wasn't a fan of it at the time, I think the things we are exposed to as a child come back to visit us in different ways as we get older. We went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights (when we didn't go to the bowling alley during my father's leagues) and on Wednesday nights, wherever the services were held.
I can remember going to church at the Oddfellows Hall in downtown Moline. I remember helping build and attending the Green Rock Baptist Church in my youth.
Now, we can get into the theological debate and whether there was (or is) a Jesus. There are some of my friends and family that don't believe in any of this, that there is no God, and that's fine.
To each their own. I don't love them any less for what they do or don't believe.
All I know is if there is a divine being and I get to meet him/her in the afterlife, I don't want to stand in front of them and deny their existence. At that time, I can envision him/her pulling the lever on the trap door to hell.
That's just me.
I volunteered to read for someone who couldn't be at the 11 am mass yesterday.
As I was feeling a bit sorry for myself, not having a job and all, I got to the church a bit late. I surrounded my self with doubt and I was feeling a wee bit sorry for myself.
The lectors, servers and all who make up the mass were meeting in the sacristy as is custom. Today, it was a bit full in the room as we were celebrating a baptism of a new baby born recently to a young couple and Father Jack was going through the service and how it worked. After the explanation, all in the room makes the sign of the cross on the baby's forehead.
How unworthy was I to do that?
I happened to notice, as the explanation was given, the father of the baby needed a walker and when he was spoken to, and could hardly speak back. I couldn't figure out whether he had some kind of muscular degenerative disease or he has suffered some kind of head trauma in battle. I know he shuffled with his walker and his speech was halting and he had to be helped to get the words out.
My heart sank.
Here was this beautiful young woman, her baby in her arms and this burly, young man who was obviously facing a burden I couldn't even imagine. How foolish of me to dwell on the fact that I had a road in front of me when it came to finding a job when this man, who was probably half my age, was struggling to walk and talk. He relied an someone (I will guess it was his brother)to make sure he was understood. He has his entire life in front of him, however long it may be, to cope with not being able to fend for himself, to hold his daughter, to embrace his wife, to communicate, to live a normal life.
It took all I had not to get emotional.
The service started and my reading was the second reading which went like this:
"Brothers and sisters:
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement
and good hope through his grace,
encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed
Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us,
so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified,
as it did among you,
and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people,
for not all have faith.
But the Lord is faithful;
he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
We are confident of you in the Lord that what we instruct you,
you are doing and will continue to do.
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God
and to the endurance of Christ."
As I got up to the amble, I glanced toward this family, my voice clenched and I asked God to give me the strength to do this.
My quick prayer was like this..."I don't have many talents Lord, but one of the talents you gave me was my voice, please allow it to be strong and clear..."
I nailed the reading, exhaled and sat back down.
Sitting in the pew to my left was a family I have known for many years and have attended St. Peter with me for the last 15 years or so. Their son has had some kind of learning disability, whether he has autism or something else, I have watched this young man grow from being a young boy into the spitting image of his father. The entire family was there yesterday, the boy, mom, dad and the two sisters. This family is just like any other except the boy talks with his hands and, sometimes in the past, has had trouble behaving in church as he is prone to uncontrolled outbursts. Again, I have known them for years, so his grunting and such has never bothered me. Some new members of the parish aren't quite as used to him as I am.
Yesterday, he had one of those days.
You could tell he was going to be loud and ultimately, he was. Dad immediately gathered him and his books and ushered him back into the child's room, where he could lash out and not be heard. Again, I was overwhelmed with how difficult their lives must be, having to work so hard with this young boy and the exhausting frustration they must have faced most of their lives. You can see the stress and pain in their faces and the anguished look on the two sisters face. The parents look far older than their years. I have such a sense of admiration for what they must have endured in their lives to try and give this young man as much of a normal life as possible.
Again, I stepped back and marveled at how people cope and how hard they work to lead "normal" lives that we take for granted every day. I am sure either one of those couples would have traded their troubles for mine.
So, on a day I volunteered to read at church, not planning really to be at this service, on my right was a young couple, surrounded by people they loved, coping with a young father whose life will never be "normal" and the strength they displayed as they were getting ready to raise their family.
On my left, a family who has struggled for years to give their son the "normal" life he has deserved. And have done the best they can.
And here I was in the middle, suddenly taught the basic lessons of life and realizing that my cross is relatively very small.
No matter how hard things are or bleak they may appear, there are lessons in strength, courage and humility all around us. However bad it my seem for us, there are people in the world carrying crosses that are heavier than we can ever hope to know.
No matter how dark, there are glimpses of light, no matter how hopeless, there are images of hope, examples of love, courage and faith that keeps all of us going.
Think it was a coincidence someone gave up that place to read at that mass so I could be a witness to this?