At this year’s Midnight Mass, Danny Jewitt was taught an old lesson in a new way.
Midnight Mass has long been a tradition in my family. As a child it was the unofficial beginning to Christmas, or that time of year most children would understand as “present heaven.” As children, my brother and sister and I were able to unwrap a gift after we returned home from Church after Midnight Mass on the night before Christmas. Growing older it marked the festive community aspect of coming together to celebrate a collective special time. My brother would belt out pious church tunes with an operatic flair entertaining the rest of us. And it would be an occasion to touch base with familiar faces from the past after we had grown up, moved away and left the parent’s nest.
My attitude towards the solemnity of the event would change as I matured. Going through phases of belief and doubt my personal relationship with Jesus went from mythological character, to mushroom, to 8lb 4oz Baby Jesus punch line, to revolutionary statesman, to spiritual master, to awakened human potential. I got that he was a character from history; it would take years of curiosity and study to give the Godman a personal foothold in my own unshakeable pantheon of faith.
Last night’s trip to church was more about shared story with my own children than the fulfillment of Davidic prophesy. I attend Mass with Madeline (8), Leo (6) and Iris (3) on a regular basis. My intention is more having them understand how to be prayerful and reverent as a wholesome life practice. I was raised Catholic. I went to a Catholic Boarding School, I have a father who is a lay minister and I obtained a Religious Minor for my Education Degree. I love singing all the hymns in old-school choirboy fashion but have little spiritual connection to the institution known as the “holy and apostolic church.” I recently described myself to another man as “an agnostic pantheist who finds the grace of God sprinkled all over our lives.” But I love going to church.
So for last night’s Midnight Mass it was with a degree of surprise and awkwardness that I lead my family to the usual pew we sit in for Mass each week. The church was as full as it had been since we attended last year’s Midnight Mass. I was privately kind of tickled that our usual spot would even be open as I wiped the rest of the Holy Water on my coat and made our way over. The church is situated as a triangle with 3 sides facing the ambo in the centre where the priest and altar preside. We normally sit to the front of a small side area in front of our parish’s white-haired choir. There were two younger people inside the pew. I didn’t pay them much mind or stop to genuflect beside them. They were sitting on the very edge of the pew and I didn’t want to have the whole fam shove passed them. I should have placed that they were the young adult children of the Parish Coordinator, who was busily running around the building finding extra seats for guests, lighting candles, and doing checks on all the mics. I walked around the front and entered from the opposite end, and being so excited at seeing my forgotten Sunday Missal from Mass three days prior I just kind of slipped into the benched area with a newfound smile on my face.
My wife was carrying Gus (our 18 month old) and our two beautiful daughters Madeline (8) and Iris (3) were close on my heels. Leo had begged out of Mass and was at home with Nana watching TV. His puking seven times on the 23rd had granted him reprieve from this Holy Night of Christianity. I am often on the receiving end of compliments as to how well-behaved our chickens are in church or other public spaces. Don’t worry…I know they’ll be teenagers one day.
Here I am, church is packed, I am mindlessly moving down the pew, opening the Missal to check the readings for tonight’s service:
“These seats are saved,” says the young woman at the other end. I know she’s 2 or 3 years out of high school. She graduated from the school I am now work in as vice-principal.
“Saved?” my tone has to imply notions of disbelief. I can only imagine the confused contortions my homely mug would have mentally been trying to multiply. “My brother and our family are coming…blah, blah, blah.” Saved? I sit here every week. And nobody is sitting here. OK maybe not every week but I’d bet on 3 out of 4 Sundays a month. Saved. I imagine my Dad’s reaction to this type of bush league maneuver. Him being a devout believing church dude.
I look to my wife Reagan. She has already moved out of the seat and taken the bench in front. Grace. There is no pew for kneeling but we have a seat. The chickens don’t even notice.
Saved. There is a point in my mid-pew contemplations where I’m like, “Hey doesn’t only Jesus save?” but I knew I was just being an egotistical dick. I shouldn’t assume a certain position, especially if you take into account my lack of religiosity.
I wish I would have had the composure and presence of mind to understand how our moving would have extended those loved young adult memories to another family. My thought on salvation is that it is always one human interaction away. I am sure in the moment my Dad would have had some quick compassionate comment and then a forgiving tone when we discussed it later. My wife’s gracious presence is something I try to remember to be thankful for every day. It’s too bad that awakening to God’s presence in our world only comes around once a season. Thankfully, there is always another interaction.
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–Photo: Indiana Wanderer/Flickr