Why we left Mass early…
When I was growing up, I made frequent visits into downtown Philadelphia (we say “Center City”) and the apartment home of my Aunt Anne and Uncle Charley. Theirs was what is canonically referred to as a “mixed marriage”—meaning that Aunt Anne was Catholic and Uncle Charley was an active member of the German Reform church. Sunday mornings were always full. Aunt Anne and I would worship at early Mass at Saint Francis Xavier Church, located literally next door to their apartment building. Then, we would come home for a short period only to prepare to head out to my uncle’s church service. It was an element of the commitment my aunt had made at the beginning of their marriage, not to abandon her Catholic faith and also to honor her husband by accompanying him to church.
During the era of my visits, my uncle had significantly compromised health. While home care aids were present during the week, on weekends my aunt had primary responsibility for preparing Uncle Charley for any outing. A consequence of this was that Aunt Anne chose to sit in the back of the church, and we would slip out before the final blessing. Now, I admit that this bothered me, and it is quite possible that others in church observed us and thought we were being disrespectful (I retrospectively wonder if I was bothered more by that possible perception than by actually missing the blessing and closing hymn). Ultimately I do not doubt that my aunt took Mass seriously and yet felt she needed to do this in order to ready my uncle and be on time.
Up to what is this leading? On the one hand, if I believe that Mass is an encounter with Jesus Christ, and He is alive and present in a profound way in the Mass, then fundamentally I would instinctively want to extend that encounter as long as possible. Yet, when it comes to “what we observe,” our observations are bound to be somehow limited…we simply cannot possibly know all there is to know about other people’s circumstances. So, if we see someone leaving church early, may I suggest our first response be to pray for that brother or sister, asking God to help them if they are facing an emergency or some other factor that necessitates their exit. If it is simply a habit of convenience, even then we can pray that the grace of God will lead to a breakthrough that changes their perspective. Either way, it demonstrates our desire for their company. And that, in my view, reflects the heart of Jesus, longing for our company rather than clicking a counter to mark our entrances and exits.
Even though we are in Fair Week, I want to remind us that this Tuesday, September 10, beginning at 7:00 p.m. at Westminster Church (353 Pine Street), there will be a presentation by Mr. Jeff Stewart, Director of the Immigrant Worker Project, based in Canton, to provide information on their need for a replacement of a 15-passenger van in their ministry to brothers and sisters who rely on others for transportation.
Blessings on all participants of the Fair!