There have been times when I realized a day was a Holy Day of Obligation and I bristled at the idea of fitting Mass into my schedule. I love Mass, but even with numerous times to pick from it felt like a hardship if there wasn’t one that perfectly fit my schedule. I’ve hardly ever had to deal with the real hardship of a genuine scarcity of Masses.
Two weeks ago I returned from a trip to Turkey where, for the first time in my memory, I was in a city on a Sunday without a single Mass to attend. It was a strange juxtaposition, because on other days of that trip I saw sacred Catholic sites including the tomb of John, the Apostle, and what is believed to be Mary’s house.
The following week I was in Istanbul — a city of 12 million people with only two English speaking Masses to choose from. Getting there required getting up early and taking public transportation (which I can sometimes be a wimp about), but I knew I had to go to Mass. I needed to be there, if it were possible. I have gone to Mass in other languages if that was my only option, and it was interesting. But I was shooting for my native tongue.
Attending that Mass was a deep and profound experience.
The Church (St Anthony of Padua) was full by the time the service started, and for the first time in my life I felt what it was like to be a remnant or pilgrim. The Officiants were of African and Filipino origins, the congregants were Filipino, Canadian, American and African, including rows and rows of young African men there with each other (but no wives). These men were so respectful and devout in their practice, I felt embarrassed knowing there was ever a time I thought my faith a chore.
The music was terrible, yet I still felt so blessed by it; the effort, commitment and love was there in its offering. The kneelers were hard wood. There was no air conditioning. We were squeezed in together like sardines. There were no orderly Communion lines like I’m accustomed to in the States. It was a bit of chaos but people were patient and polite with one another.
I looked around and felt so profoundly blessed to be there sharing something that was so rare in that city. I was earnestly thankful that our Tradition teaches us that Mass (within specific guidelines) is not optional. I admired the strength and fortitude of all those dear people who swim against the current to actively practice Catholicism in a country that is only 0.05% Catholic.
In the Hagia Sophia (a Christian Church from 537-1453) I heard American tourists ask non-Christians questions about the history of Christendom. This motivated me to want to understand our collective history better. We need to do as 1Peter (3:15) says and be prepared to give an explanation for our hope.
I had one Sunday back at my home Church before another week of travel which took me to Charlotte, NC where I went to a wonderful Church as a visitor. This Church had every possible resource that the Church in Istanbul was lacking, and they used them to the fullest. The music (with live Gregorian chant!) was splendid, and the building was comfy, yet it still felt to me like nothing was taken for granted. I saw there a wonderful mix of people of many backgrounds; people of different races, languages and economic levels all worshipped together in equality.
Remembering the Masses in Turkey, home and today in North Carolina, I feel so amazingly blessed to be Catholic. Our deep and wide history, tradition (and Tradition), and perseverance is something I am humbled to have a chance to participate in. I hope you will take a few minutes to ponder the length and depth of our Faith and share in that thankfulness.
Speaking of thankfulness, my trip to Mary’s house included a huge surprise. While there, a gentleman Air Force Colonel asked me to become his wife. When I became a widow, I asked God to send me a man who had a list of virtues I enumerated to Him in detail. I was very skeptical that such a man could be found, and even if he existed, how would God point him out to me?
I met this fine man 40 years ago on the bus to elementary school (a thousand miles away from where I live now). Long story made short, my father set out to find him and did — single and 40 miles from me — we live in different cities on streets with the same name. God provides and has a wild sense of humor.