Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, among others...

God seems to be getting into a strange habit in my life of displaying His hand especially clearly on major feast days. Today was no exception.

Today, August 15, is the Feast of the Assumption. Today we commemorate the Blessed Mother being assumed, body and soul, into the immediate presence of Almighty God (I have inherited from Andrew Katay a dislike for the term "heaven" since it can mean several different things, between which necessary distinctions are seldom made so, as often as not, upon hearing the term, people conjure up in their minds a Platonic state in which disembodied spirits blissfully roam somewhere near a vaguely anthropomorphic God- when speaking of heaven it is perhaps more useful to be explicit about what it entails). The Blessed Mother is, of course, one of only four people to whom this has happened, the others being Enoch, Moses and Elijah. Some question hovers over whether our Lady died first and then was assumed, like Moses, or whether the entire thing happened without her dying, like with Enoch and Elijah. For my own part, I side with the Eastern churches (and, coincidentally, with the early Church) in suspecting that it was the former (one will notice that, in the icon above, her tomb is shown indicating that the iconographer agrees with me).

But back to my own experience of the feast. The Assumption is one of the few remaining holy days of obligation (the other that doesn't fall on a Sunday is, if memory serves, Christmas) and so I was pretty keen to get to Mass. Since I work, my only option was to go in the evening. There were some Masses locally at 6:45am, but given the traffic on the M4 I would not have been able to attend one of those without being late for work.

Not to worry, I imagined; I'll call up a local parish, find out their evening Mass time and go along.

Fittingly, given the feast, I had made the assumption that most parishes would have an evening Mass on a holy day. Unlike that of the Blessed Mother, however, this assumption turned out to be decidedly ill-founded.
Before leaving for work this morning, I jotted down phone numbers for the parish near my house and the parish near my work. I thought if one didn't work out, I could go to the other one. So during spare moments at work, I called each of them. As it turned out, in each case the last Mass of the day was at 9am (!?). 9 in the morning! And they expect all Catholics to get to Mass today? The people who organise these things must all be either seriously out-of-touch clergy or retired! Don't they realise some of us have jobs? Such were some of the angry thoughts that leapt to my mind as my blood pressure began steadily to climb.

Of course, this was not entirely fair. A lot of churches, I discovered, had had Vigil Masses last night, in keeping with the Jewish reckoning of days the Church still follows. My problem of course, apart from not being sufficiently prepared, was that I don't follow the Jewish reckoning of days and therefore assume that days start in the morning rather than the previous evening. Another ill-founded assumption.

With the real possibility that I might miss out on Mass on a holy day of obligation, I began desperately casting around to people I know (those in the know- or with Internet access) who might know of somewhere with an evening Mass. A couple in the city had a 6:30pm one, but since I finish at 5:30 I wouldn't be able to get there in time from work, again given the traffic on the M4. Stress levels continued to escalate.

Of course I realised if I was physically unable to get to Mass on a holy day of obligation, no culpability would attach to me. But here's the rub- I really like Mass, and I didn't actually want to miss it. Especially on such a great feast day.

Nobody I called knew of any Masses that I could reasonably get to. And so, with my boss probably getting tired of me asking whether I could make a quick phonecall from the work phone, I set about unpacking summer stock (a surprisingly relaxing occupation) and sought to calm myself somewhat.

Okay, Lord, I prayed, these are my circumstances. I've done everything I can about them. I realise the circumstances themselves don't matter. You've orchestrated them for a reason. What matters is how I react to them. Fill me with your grace. Help me to regard the situation with Your eyes and react the way You would want me to.

So I continued to work the rest of the day, offering up that prayer (or the gist of it) several times, though always remaining a bit on edge, as one does when one's immediate future is uncertain. I would have settled for anything in that frame of mind. Liturgical abuses, dodgy sermon, you name it. I just wanted to offer the Sacrifice somewhere.

Then around 4pm I got a text message. It was from one of the friends I had called earlier in the day and read simply "Belfield at 7pm".

God often answers our prayers over and above what we expect. I hadn't even considered looking up St Michaels Belfield earlier. The name hadn't even occurred to me. Of course I knew the church. It is the site of the annual Call to Holiness Conference and, moreover, I once gave my testimony in the Church hall. Behold the gratuitousness of God's answers to prayer. I would have willingly gone to the most gauche, 70s inspired monstrosity with happy-clappy music and organised teams of elderly extraordinary ministers if needs be. I was so desperate even that would have sufficed for me. But instead, God sent me to one of the most beautiful and reverent churches in the Sydney Archdiocese, with one of the most gung-ho and systematic preacher-priests I've met (excluding, I have to say, Fr Greg Jordan SJ!)- Fr Robert Slattery- who memorably remarked at the end of Mass once, "Go outside if you want to talk. We don't talk in here. This is a church!"

His homily was appropriately direct and illuminating (focusing on the antiquity of our knowledge of Mary's assumption and then on its significance as a precursor to our glorification in Christ and on the Blessed Mother as an image of what the grace of God will do in all of us ultimately) and the offering of the Sacrifice was beautiful and moving. Communion was, as ever, terrible and thrilling.

So here I am at the end of the day meditating on God's mercies, given in supreme love and in spite of my earlier frustration. Its very humbling, truth be told, to be on the receiving end of such practical evidences of God's love for me. But thats the kind of God we have. Thats the kind of God the Blessed Mother now worships every day. Thats the kind of God whose glory she enjoys and reflects. Thats the kind of God I too am called to imitate. Magnificat anima mea Dominum!

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