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A Child, A Stranger, the Body of Christ

February 12, AD2017

My 8-year-old grandson and a stranger both gave me a special gift one recent Sunday. And there I was thinking I was doing something good for them at Mass.

Colin, my grandson, goes to Mass with his third-grade class a couple of times a week. He usually doesn’t go on Sundays, though. My son-in-law normally works a shift that begins early those afternoons, and understandably Colin wants to spend as much time as he can with his daddy. But Friday, Colin called me asking if he could go to Mass with me this past Sunday. As I planned on worshiping solo that day, I was more than happy to welcome him alongside.

“I like going to church,” he told me. I was nowhere near a mirror at the time, but I am certain I had a huge smile upon hearing that.

Like Grandfather, Like Grandson

We genuflected before entering the pew, then knelt in the same general vicinity of the church that Donna and I usually occupy each Sunday. Once I sat down, I picked up a missal to find the readings for that day’s Mass; Colin picked up one and did the same. I smiled again. Quickly I glanced around the congregation and saw many familiar faces; Colin did the same and whispered “Jackson is here!” after spotting a classmate. He looked at the paper with the songs for the Mass and told me, “I know five of the songs on here!”

Colin’s excitement made me feel warm. I know the beauty of the Mass isn’t necessarily supposed to evoke sentiment, tenderness, awe, or any other kind of emotion, or rather, that the emotion isn’t what it’s all about. It is the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith largely because it is our ability to experience the Last Supper and Christ’s death on the cross once more, to live it even as it is happening in a great spiritual mystery.

Yet there’s nothing wrong with those days when Mass doesn’t make you feel something powerful and wonderful–and I usually do, at least in the moments of the consecration and upon receiving the Eucharist.

Then there are those Mass experiences during which every song sounds heavenly, every prayer flows joyfully, every brief moment of silence fills one with peace. There are Masses during which the several requests for mercy feel immediately answered, the inspired words of the homily resonate with insight, the Our Father and every Amen ring out in the distinct unison of the Communion of Saints.

The Challenge of a Stranger

As our music director began to play the piano that Sunday, Colin and I stood to sing the opening tune. At almost that exact moment, two women entered our pew from the left side. One woman appeared closer to my age than the other. The younger woman was crying–quietly, but excessively.

Spiritually stimulated just a few moments earlier, I suddenly was taken aback. Her tears broke my heart.

“What should I do?” I wondered silently. “Perhaps I should be a good fellow parishioner and brother in Christ by stepping out of the pew to walk around and give her a hug. No, I’m sure she doesn’t want anyone to notice. Maybe I can trade places with Colin, then move just a couple of steps away for a caring hug without leaving the pew.”

All of that went through my mind as I was singing, as our pastor approached the altar. I was running out of time. I had to make a call.

“Don’t draw any attention to yourself,” I heard softly in my thoughts. “Don’t make it about you at all. Give her something else. Give Colin something else.”

Just as our pastor bowed at the altar and began to walk toward his chair, a revelation flashed in my mind.

“Okay, Jesus,” I whispered as Carrie played the final notes on her piano, “I offer you this Mass for Colin and for that woman.”

The Consolation of the Body of Christ

From that moment, I experienced a spiritual focus I hadn’t felt for a long time. What’s more, I peeked to my left occasionally and saw that the young woman–no more tears–seemed to have a keen concentration as well. And then I heard Colin speaking the prayerful responses and singing every song, including one for which he didn’t need the song sheet.

“I know this one by heart,” he told me.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You/Every hour I need You

My one defense, my righteousness/Oh God, how I need You

That Mass wasn’t special because of the music or the prayers, not because of the beauty of the church or the homily or the fact that it was the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. It was about the Word; it was about the Eucharist.

It was, indeed, about the Body of Christ.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Mike Eisenbath has been married to Donna for 30 years; they have four adult children and two grandsons. He was an award-winning sportswriter for 23 years, including 18 at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with duties that included covering the St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball. Severe depression forced him out of that career. He continues to write, with a monthly column in the St. Louis Review, his www.eisenbath.com website and several Catholic websites featuring reflections on topics such as his faith and mental illness. Mike is a frequent speaker on those subjects and among his three books is “Hence My Eyes Are Turned Toward You: Confronting Depression With Faith and the Prayer of Jehoshaphat.”

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  • Mark McCann

    Hi Mike, I really liked reading your piece. There is great beauty when we take the ordinary things of this world and see the sacredness in them. I usually find Mass an emotional experience, often because I’m struggling with my failings, sitting with profound thoughts, or wrestling with different circumstances in my life. The Mass helps me to live in the moment – your article did too! Thank you very much!