We have another guest writer for Mary Mail today. It is Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer. He is the priest at St. John the Evangelist in Borger, Texas. Fr. Jim taught our deacon class homiletics, and his classes were great! Fr. Jim is also an author. You can find his most recent book Preaching at the Truckstop: Homilies on the Way to the Big Bash on Amazon.
Covid-19: In the Distance
In times of persecution, Catholics have gathered for Mass in secret, in the dead of night, like vagrants huddle around a trash-can fire to warm their hands and pass a pint.
The stories about clandestine Masses involve priests who break unjust laws and put their lives at risk to offer the Holy Sacrifice, such as in England in the time of St. Thomas More and Mexico in the time of St. Miguel Pro, and many other places as well.
These Masses are part of our history, stories of stalwart faith practiced behind the Satan’s battle lines: in concentration camps and POW camps, in damp cellars in the city and cattle barns in remote country.
Now, today, we have Masses in a time of pandemic, simple liturgies with less than ten people in attendance. We call them “live-stream.” But, remember the biblical deer who longs for rushing water? Well, these “live-stream” Masses bring only the promise, not the quenching, of sacramental thirst.
It’s not the same. Not even close!
For Catholics accustomed to the flowing currents of a Sunday Mass—the standing, the kneeling, the crawling babies, the elderly with walkers, the sloshing rhythm of people singing, the glint of light on a chalice—the experience of watching a live-stream Mass is akin to a fourteen-year-old viewing a video of classmates swinging from ropes over a creek only to plunge into water teeming with tadpoles, turtles and crawdads.
Grace dropped from the I-Cloud is a far cry from the feel of cool water on your skin. Yet, we are compelled to search for grace in every place.
This weekend, I will invite two catechumens to join me for a private Mass. I’ll unlock the door of the church, place sanitizer on a table nearby, and each one of us will keep a safe distance apart.
I will look for grace in that distance.
During the Liturgy of the Word, I will invoke God’s blessing on the catechumens, asking that the power of the sacraments “will conform them to Christ…and enable them to triumph over the bitter fate of death.”
Across the distance of an all-but-empty church, I will look into faces hungry for God, hungry for the touch of God. In their eyes, I will note defiance, a stubborn arrogance similar to the knowing glance of POW’s gathered around a Bible in the sight of guards with coyote eyes.
This Sunday, that Bible lies open to the death-defying verse that reads: “Lazarus, come out!”
Across the distance of a vacant church, I will proclaim words that flows like a river, an underground river, sweeping in its current forgiveness of sin, hope for the poor and life without end. The same hope once offered amid the tombs of martyrs in Rome, glimpsed from blood-soaked crosses in Nagasaki, shouted in the grito, “Viva Cristo Rey!,” as firing squads aimed their rifles.
Surely this faith, which no government can destroy and no secularism eviscerate, will not buckle in the face of a virus that wears a tin crown called corona.
Grace in the distance.
Grace in the murmur of the ancient Creed, its cadence the snap of branches breaking beneath the chest of a golden buck.
Grace in the distance.
Grace in a vision of once-and-future Sunday picnics: kids dashing to jump into a muddy creek, grey-haired grannies paddling canoes, teenagers shooting the rapids, weathered men casting lines to snag some trout.
Upstream, below the falls, water crashes against the boulders of time. Sacraments, like rainbow colors, hover in the sacred mist. They dissolve and fade. Then, in the distance, reappear in triumphal spray.