Monday, September 14, 2009

Simply to Thy Cross I Cling

Yesterday we almost didn't have a priest for Sunday morning Mass. Our pastor Fr. Marty is out of town and since he likes to plan ahead he made arrangements for priests to be here to celebrate Mass this past weekend probably 3-4 months ago. But we haven't had issues in the past, and the priests that were scheduled to celebrate for us had both been to St. William of York before. The priest scheduled for yesterday morning also has a tendency to arrive at the last possible moment so there's always a little bit of sense of adventure and anxiety for me as the "one in charge" as I wait for him to arrive for the 9:00am Mass.

But yesterday was a bit different. As it got closer and closer to 9:00 I had a bad feeling. And when it became 9:01 and then 9:02 and still no priest that feeling became much worse. Because I was faced with the prospect of having to stand before a congregation of people that had gathered for Sunday liturgy and explain to them that we would not have a priest to celebrate Mass. And while I had been here for Mass as a participant the last time that happened here at St. William it didn't relieve my stress any that I may now have to be the one to make that decision.

Thankfully, I was able to get in contact with the priest and he finally arrived. And he was embarrassed and contrite for having forgotten to be here. But he did get here and all went well. And I was much too relieved to be upset with him.

Doing a Mass or communion service takes a great deal of preparation. Of course there's all the "little" things like making sure the candles are lit, the Lectionary is on the right page, the key is in the tabernacle - all things that I have forgotten to do at one time or another. The reflection or homily takes a lot of thought and consideration. In preparing for this morning's Communion service reflection I learned about Ember Days - does anyone remember those? Ember Days could be days of thankfulness for the harvest or fasting and prayer observed at specific times of the church year. In the pre-Vatican II church Ember Days were observed the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the week. This week following the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross we would have been observing additional days of prayer and fasting. I love learning about the saints and the traditions of our church as I prepare to give a reflection. It helps me grow in my faith and helps me feel prepared and confident when I stand before a group of people.

If it had come down to doing a Communion service yesterday morning I know it would have worked out. I've done Communion services before and I know what to expect and what the guidelines are and most importantly I think know the compassion and understanding of the St. William of York community. I have stood before them and been strengthened by the support and love they have shown me.

But I think what has prepared me the most, given me the support I need and continually demonstrates God's love for me is the cross of Christ's sacrifice. My entire life I have been surrounded by this great symbol of God's love. The church I grew up in we often sang hymns on Sunday morning such as "The Old Rugged Cross" and "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Hymns that featured lines such as "In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me." That's what I grew up with. That's what I learned. That's where my strength comes from.

As Catholics we recall that symbol when we cross ourselves in prayer. I often wondered why people in the Latino community would often kiss their fingers after crossing themselves until a friend of mine explained they make a little cross with their thumb and forefinger and it's that cross they kiss. I once read that some believe the tradition of crossing one's fingers for luck actually originated as a way of symbolizing the Christian cross as a talisman against evil. We wear crosses, we surround ourselves with crosses. I love seeing the various depictions of crosses in cemeteries. It is the great symbol of our faith.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The cross of Christ's sacrifice. A symbol we can always turn to for strength and support. But most importantly, a symbol of God's great love for us as we know from the Gospel of John: For God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes might not perish but have eternal life and that the world might be saved through him.

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