Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Forgotten Ones

In recent weeks, I’ve been spending my Thursday afternoons at a local food ministry where, from 4-7PM, they distribute about 10 tons of food to 400 families.  Volunteers sort the donated food so each pre-screened family will get a variety of typical food items, and then 400 cars roll through the parking lot and open their trunks, which are then loaded by volunteers --- including me.  Two cars a minute, for three hours, distributing the food is exhausting, but rewarding work.
It reminds me of the Miracle of the Loaves.  About 1000 people come to this warehouse each Thursday; Jesus provides the food, and then the apostles distribute it --- that’s the volunteers.  When we think of the Biblical Miracle of the Loaves passage, we usually think of those people on the hillside, hungry not only for food but also the Word of God, or we think of Jesus, so patiently explaining things to them, and then feeding them.  But we usually don’t think much about the apostles in this miracle.  They are the forgotten ones.  They distributed the food; they cleaned up afterward.  They really played a very critical part in the event, but got little notice.  I think that’s what God asks of people who volunteer at this particular food ministry I attend: “Will you love my children, and serve their needs --- for Me?”  And the forgotten ones get to work.
As I said, this seems a small thing to do each week, but it is most rewarding:  loving neighbors Jesus asked us to do.  Among the volunteers, I met last week, were a young husband and wife.  When they mentioned it was their first time there, I asked how they heard about the ministry.  They told me the township website had a section titled:  Volunteer Opportunities, where this ministry was listed, among others.  I’ve lived here 40 years, and I didn’t know that.  I wonder if your city or town doesn’t list similar volunteer opportunities in your area.  As Mother Teresa said: “Calcutta is around us everywhere.”
Some girls from a local Catholic girl’s high school were also there for the first time.  At dinner with them afterwards, they were enthusiastic about getting their friends to come next week:  another miracle of multiplication.  Their enthusiasm gave me joy ---as did the huge rainbow outside the restaurant as we exited from dinner.  “See, God blessed our time together doing His work,” one said.  One of the forgotten, but not unappreciated ones.
The harvest is rich, but the laborers are few …
(so) He summoned His twelve disciples.
Jn 9:37-10:1

. . . . . . . . . .
Boring Mass?
I had a strange compulsion to attend the 8AM mass on First Friday this month at a local church.  I did my usual Friday early morning men’s Bible Study, and then rushed to church.  Fr. John Riccardo said the mass.
For me, mass is often filled with distractions, from fidgeting kids (or adults) to the people who follow the words of the mass on their cell phones.  All this activity around me distracts me, and so I often listen and pray the mass with my eyes closed.
As Fr. John began mass that Friday, something immediately struck me.  As he prayed the prayers of the mass to God, Fr. John was facing the altar, with his back to the people (“ad orientem”).  This is the way priests used to say mass, which is still a valid way --- and even has been encouraged by Pope Francis --- but it is rare to see it in our country now.  I think the logic for the priest facing the people at mass is that it is as if we were all around the altar together, like Jesus and the apostles were around the table at the Last Supper.  This seems logical.  Fr. John’s facing the altar, however, threw any of my logic out the window.  I FELT something as I looked at him and heard his prayers, something powerful, and something good.
Using the logic of the mass as like being around the dinner table does sound cozy and intimate.  But thinking back on all those family dinners I had when growing up, they were often anything but intimate.  Yes, there were some occasions of sharing of our day or our problems, but most often the meal was just another meal --- to be gotten past to get to more important things.
I think many people have come to see the mass in that same light --- just another meal --- important yes, needed for life yes, but still:  just another meal.  The fact that the Body of Christ is on the menu for us is easily forgotten by many people.
Seeing Fr. John facing the altar provoked an awareness in me of several things:  1) He, and we, were facing the tabernacle, God’s presence on the altar, and the rising sun to the East. God was there in front of us, and most deserving of our attention towards Him, not each other.  2) Fr. John, with that position, was oriented as in front of us; he was leading us, as a shepherd does, exactly as Moses led his people in prayer and sacrifice to God.  And 3) We were praying together.  I had lost a most critical awareness of the priest’s words of the mass, when he so often says the word “We” --- we are not primarily there as friends for a meal, we were primarily there as God’s children, praying to Him.  When I saw Fr. John’s back I was not slighted, but humbled.  He was stepping up to lead us, and plead for us, before God.
And it felt SOOOOO right.
I didn’t close my eyes at that mass, and I had an acute awareness of the words the priest said, and they had deep meaning for me.  And I felt a great oneness with the other people in the church, uniting with them behind our prayer leader.
But it was when we rose to say the Our Father that morning that I most felt the Holy Spirit’s presence, for when I stood the rising sun shone directly into my face, and THEN I did close my eyes, yet the brightness burned past my eyelids.  And I felt God’s light and presence most acutely.  And it was good.
It was just a change in the priest’s position at the altar, but for me it was a crucial change, and I felt most strongly:  This is right; this is so right.
In my heart, I pray more priests would visibly lead their flocks in this manner.  It is so right.


  1. Re your comments about the ad orientem Mass:

    I began attending the Extraordinary Form of the Mass on Sunday mornings about 4 or 5 years ago. The parish I attend do all the Masses ad orientem, even the Novo Ordo, but I attend the Mass in Latin.

    I understand why you close your eyes during Mass. I too have found myself unable to pay attention and really pray the Mass due to the distractions around me. It drives me crazy, because I REALLY want to keep my attention riveted on the words of the Mass, and each and every prayer.

    What's ironic is that I never wanted to attend the traditional Latin Mass. I love the Novo Ordo. But due to changes at the parish I had been attending, I began to go to the parish I now attend. And then the distractions at the Novo Ordo Mass there were so many, I decided to go to the earlier Latin Mass.

    I feel God led me to it, because I would not have made that change on my own. And the one thing I absolutely love is that at my parish at every Mass, Holy Communion is distributed only by the priests and while the communicants are kneeling at the communion rail, and only on the tongue. (Sometimes people with walkers or knee problems will not be able to kneel for Communion or if someone chooses not to kneel, the priest will not deny Communion.)

    I really hope eventually we go back to ad orientem for all Masses, so that people can experience what you have experienced, and realize for themselves worshiping God during Mass requires reverence for His Majesty. The Mass is not about us. It's about Him.

    God bless you Tom.

  2. I get a short dose of the Latin mass when I visit my nieces at Thanksgiving, and St. Anne's parish in Gilbert, AZ. It also has the railing for morning mass. I too would like to see the ad orientem spread, but in a culture so immersed in "what feels good to me", I'm not sure I'll live to see it. I've come to accept that all things can't be as I wish, or pray for.

    Although I always wish and pray you well, Fran.