Last Friday (which was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a holy day of obligation), I went over for noon Mass.
[An aside here: the following sort of thing happens to me a lot. A lot. My spiritual advisor says some of us attract unbalanced people, lonely people, those on the outskirts. It's like I have a neon sign on my forehead: "SAFE PERSON!"]
I had just entered the church itself when a young woman came up to me, very close. I thought perhaps she was someone I knew, but she was not familiar. She said, "What's so special about today??"
I have to admit that my first thought (and this is how you know I was a religion major) was, "Hey, that kinda the first line of the Passover Seder. The youngest asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights?"
The young woman had intense dark eyes, and an eager face. She said, "We usually just have the service in the chapel, but there are so many people here today!"
Ah: that gave me a bit more to go on. I explained that today was a holy day of obligation, so Catholics were required to go to Mass.
She told me she was a Christian, but not Catholic. "I just love worshiping here. I try to come every day. Why is today so holy?"
I briefly outlined a whole lot of theology in a sentence or two, telling her that God prepared Mary to be the Ark of the New Covenant, the very best place for His Son to begin His earthly life.
"I don't understand why Catholics pray to Mary or saints. They're dead."
Oh, I said: "They are more alive than we are! They are in the presence of Almighty God!"
Her face lit up, "I never thought of that!"
And better still, I told her, Mary was our Mother as well.
"How can that be right?" she asked.
In Christ, we are all brothers and sisters. That means Christ's Mother is also ours.
Her face filled with wonder. "I have a mother in Heaven?"
Yes, you do. And she so much wants to hear from you. She will take all of your cares to Her Son.
The young woman thanked me profusely, and then drifted off to find a seat.
If only every Catholic had her faith, her desire to know and her willingness to ask a perfect stranger: "What's so special about today?"
I've felt the sting of death too much this week.
My Aunt Frances passed away. She was the youngest of my mom's three siblings, and Mom's only sister. Her very last days were a lot like my mother's: stubborn Irish women who clung to life, but also longed for Heaven.
With my aunt's death, my generation becomes the eldest. Really? That doesn't seem right. We are still kids.
It was good to see my cousins, and it was a good reminder to stay in touch.
Yesterday, we learned that a college friend passed away. It was a stunning piece of news, an untimely and apparently lonely death.
He was a brother, a fraternity brother, but really: a brother. He was quick to laugh, loved a good debate (and he and I had MANY!) and a trusted soul. How could we lose someone so vital, alive?
Today, we've been sharing memories and pictures. Remembering is good but - oh, how I wish we'd been able to be more in touch.
I pray. I pray that we all remember that time is short and life is precious. I see the boys I knew in the faces of my cousins: the boys who taught me to catch a football and throw a punch. My sweet cousin who was my first babysitter. A young man, cigar dangling, with a silly grin that hid a sharp mind.
Death stings. The loss is too keen. A friend reminded me over the weekend that life is too short to miss out on love, to say, "not now," to allow things to pass us by as spectators and not participants.
Good-bye to a funny aunt who taught me to be a strong Irish woman. Good-bye to a man who laughed and cried with me, who was a brother to me when I needed one. And let's us remember that good-byes come swiftly - let us not waste a moment.
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