I'm a Cradle Catholic who has gone to mass pretty much every Sunday (and sometimes other days as well) for my entire life. I can probably count up all of the times I brought up the gifts on one hand. Maybe once or twice I was a cute enough kid to bring up the gifts during mass with a sister or parent. Maybe once or twice as an adult with my fellow mantilla-wearing sibling. In the last two weeks or so, my husband and I were called to bring up the gifts twice. TWICE.
I partially blame Padre Pio for this. The rest of the blame falls on God's profound love for me.
|Padre Pio, Pray for Us!|
The first time we were called to bring up the gifts was during a weekday mass that we made it to by the skin of our teeth. We both work in the city and I work way more overtime than a normal person usually works because there are no PhD candidate labor laws as far as I know...but such is life when you are attempting to generate data and get the HPLC monster to work properly. This is part of the reason I haven't been blogging so much. The amount of work I have been doing and also a period of self-discovery and change (a prolonged metanoia of sorts...the Greek version of the word).
The mass was a healing mass held by Father Pio Mandato, a Franciscan priest born whose family hailed from Pietrelcina. His family and Padre Pio's family (THE Padre Pio) were good friends and he had received his first communion from Padre Pio. This was not an event I wanted to miss because Padre Pio has been with me for most of my PhD career and has already done his part in making small miracles for me in times of need. He is quite the intercessor for me, so I was compelled to go and receive a blessing with a Padre Pio relic (one of his gloves). Unfortunately, because I am a sinner on a tight schedule...I was not able to go to confession right before the mass. Neither had my husband. Both of us were called to a mass where we would be unable to receive. It was awful knowing that we could not participate fully. It was as if we lived in Christ's time, were invited to have dinner with him, and found out last minute that we weren't able to sit at his table after all. There really is no way to describe the disappointment unless you have been in a similar position.
So there were were, sitting in the church, feeling sorry for ourselves. One or two of the buttons of my coat had popped off that week and I had substituted an NYC subway-scented pashmina as a chapel veil. Throw in a pair of bummy sweat pants (perfect for lab use, but not for church attire) and a hoodie with thumb holes torn into the sleeves...and you have a pretty good picture of what I looked like in that pew: A hobo who had crawled into a church to keep warm. I probably even smelled like lab rodents. My husband was dressed nicely for work, so we must have been quite a pair.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been going through a metanoia of sorts. I have been trying to listen to and find God in the long hours, the lack of progress with the HPLC, stress, you name it. I was coming out or about to dive into a long stretch of dry prayer life. These dry spells are great experiences once they are over because they have helped me grow and mature in my faith. They help me understand where atheists, lapsed Catholics, etc. are coming from when we talk faith and they have given me some perspective into the dry martyrdom of many saints who have suffered greatly but not been killed for their faith.
As beneficial as these dry periods may be, they are pretty rough when you go through them. That week had been a rough one for me. In the parking lot before mass, I said a quick and very desperate prayer to God, through the intercession of Padre Pio, for a sign...ANY SIGN that God still wanted me and loved me. That sign came when, out of nowhere, one of the ushers asks my husband and me if we want to bring up the gifts. We gave each other a puzzled look and accepted. There were so many people there who were better dressed, less frazzled, and more ready for mass than we were. Some of them were even in a state of grace, having gone to confession like responsible Catholics.
As unworthy as we felt, God still wanted us to partake in this mass...not just look in on it. It was as if, even though I was unable to eat with Christ...he still invited me into the room where the dinner was set up and still willing to let me serve him. This was BIG. God wants me and loves me...even when I, by human standards at least, am unworthy to be wanted or loved. This is part of the metanoia I keep talking about. I am only now, after 28 years, learning to appreciate the infinite and generous nature of God's love. God is more merciful to me than I am to myself. Than I am to others. Than others are to me. God. Almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, and still willing to love us fully enough to forgive us all the evils we commit if we only take a moment to seek forgiveness.
To seek forgiveness is to seek God through his love and mercy. Seeking forgiveness requires you to leave pride behind and put yourself at the unfathomable mercy of God. And He never fails to welcome us back. This lesson, in and of itself, has been the hardest lesson for me to learn because I am way too hard on myself. I've always been that way...but God was never that way and He wants us to see that. This is an especially important lesson to start learning in a world that tempts imperfect people to sin and then plasters their sins all over magazines, ridiculing them and refusing to forgive. God's capacity and willingness to forgive is beyond our understanding. He does not love according to our rules or what we deem to be fair. His justice is far more merciful than our justice because it stems only from love and is unblemished by a need for retribution, convenience, or lack of understanding.
God called me to serve Him, as I was. I was unworthy of receiving him because I was weighed down by sin and felt awful for letting him down. Even so, I saw mercy and love in His call for participation. This love was manifested in a radiant "thank you" from Father Pio as I handed the wine. It was manifested in the radiant expression that Father Pio had on his face as he elevated the Eucharist and looked on it with true reverence and awe. It was also manifested in a realization that even though I unworthy, God still found worth in me. I was not worthy to receive His Son. However, I was worthy enough to serve a part in the sacrifice and this thought was very humbling. God chose us for this function not because we were worthy, but because He loved us. Nothing that we do will ever make us worthy. We are only worthy because His love makes us worthy. He loved us into existence and it is his love that keeps calling us towards Him even when we falter time and time again.
This past weekend before mass when my husband and I walked away from the Nativity Scene and towards the pew, we passed by the gifts to be given for this mass. A thought occurred to me to ask for a redo, through Padre Pio's intercession. We were both properly dressed and I did not smell of lab animals. I had even sewn some buttons on my coat by then, even though I had not worn it to mass. Most importantly, however, both my husband and I had gone to confession and were ready to receive. As we waited for mass to begin, an usher approached us. Lo and behold, God had listened and He had called us to Him again. God, it seems, believes in second chances and will always continue calling us to Him.
As for Padre Pio....he has yet to disappoint this extremely bothersome Catholic Geek.