I sat in the pew as the church filled up for mass, my focus on the crucifix hanging over the altar. It was a humble altar in a small church, part of a tiny town of only five hundred full-time residents. A far cry from the grand cathedrals of Europe, its parishioners were decidedly more devout than their counterparts across the Atlantic. The pews were filled each morning for the celebration of daily mass. On Sundays, their voices rang out in song, if not filling the sanctuary with the beautiful music of a well-rehearsed choir, at least, one must assume, gladdening the heart of the Most High with their sincerity.
The church itself was a utilitarian structure, built next to the original chapel, to accommodate the overflow of summer visitors to the coastal resort town. It was Thanksgiving morning and the church was gratifyingly full of worshippers who took precious time away from family and friends and the frantic pace that marked the traditional opening of the Christmas shopping season in order to acknowledge God’s blessings in their lives.
Perhaps it was because those gathered had so much to be thankful for. They were retired for the most part, and fortunate enough to have found their way to the affluent resort town along the seashore. This morning many were surrounded by extended family and friends gathered together to celebrate the holiday.
I sat in the front pew, my focus on the crucifix hanging over the altar, my attention largely undisturbed by the mostly quiet arrivals and greetings between friends going on around me. I arrived an hour early to take advantage of the silence in the church, to offer a rosary and to talk to God. I do that a lot…talk to God, that is. For those of you who have followed my story, you already know that about me. The coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and a return to the holy weeks and months of the church liturgical year. For me, the coming of Advent was our signal that it was time for me to get back to work.
A smile curved my lips at the thought. The atmosphere in the sanctuary changed subtly. It was as if a painter dipped his brush in gold paint and with broad strokes brushed the altar with the color. The light changed, brightened, glowed even, until the gold took on an iridescent hue that surrounded the entire altar. My rational side acknowledged the effect was beyond the budget of the tiny church, nor was it the kind of thing that could be achieved with a dimmer lever on a light switch, even if the pastor was so inclined. It wasn’t my first experience with the strange phenomena, so I refrained from looking around to see if my neighbors noticed anything different. I didn’t have to. No one else seemed to be paying particular attention to the change in the air. I knew if others saw what I did, a noticeable hush would have fallen over the sanctuary, the quiet conversations about Thanksgiving dinner and midnight shopping would have been set aside for a few moments to bask in the glow of the evidence of God’s hand, or more likely to rush to explain the unexplainable, then to mock the gullible ones for their foolishness.
Visions were part of the deal. I guess my unusual upbringing was meant to prepare me for them and to not be afraid. I rarely shared mine, having no wish to be on the receiving end of another’s mockery. In this little church, I’d seen a lot of them and I couldn’t help but wonder if no one else saw them or if like me, they pretended not to see anything out of the ordinary so as not to be mocked?
“My children’s ability to see, daughter, is a measure of their devotion to seek.”
His words didn’t comfort me. After all, I was surrounded by the truly devoted. It was a mid-week mass and not even a holy day of obligation, as Thanksgiving was a secular holiday and not a religious one. Yet the church was almost full. Most parishes would be glad to see such numbers on a Sunday. If the faithful gathered in the pews couldn’t see, if they couldn’t feel Him, or hear His voice, what chance did his other less devoted children have?
Faith was a gift not a right. I understood that, but I wondered why the road had to be so hard… and so lonely. I was just beginning to grasp the idea that the narrow way referred to in scripture was a lot narrower than I previously realized and the higher one ascended the narrower the path became.
But what then is the alternative? Do we turn back to a former way of life we know is an illusory one? I could be grateful that option at least was no longer afforded me. There was a time when I could turn away, and many times when I did, and I pretended, like the others surrounding me perhaps, that I didn’t see, that it was all a mistake, a short in the electrical system, or all in my head.
No more. That particular test is behind me. There is no life except the creator of all life. I can no longer delude myself otherwise. I am not in control of my destiny, except to the degree He affords me control.
Sometimes I look at my children and wish they could see, wish they knew, but then I think, no, let them sleep. They are young yet, still lost in the magnificent gifts of this physical life. Father will call them in His time, not mine.
Let them sleep on and enjoy the wonderful blessings of this day…the love of family and friends, the abundant blessing of being able to gather together and celebrate the year’s gifts…then later, when the clock strikes midnight, the opportunity to get a jump on Christmas shopping at the outlet malls.
Happy Thanksgiving! And may God bless and keep you each day.