Last Monday evening, I did something truly radical. No, it didn’t involve smashing windows, setting fires, or yelling obscenities at the police.
I went to church, a Catholic one, for the Holy Day of Obligation. It was for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, for Mother Mary.
I didn’t have to go. There were a million reasons not to go.
First, I was tired and worn out after a long day. Plus, I’m not a Catholic, although I do love Catholic Masses, so my presence wasn’t required. And, finally, the church is a campus ministry and close to UC Berkeley and the scene of riots. But off I went anyway.
There were a good number of people there for the evening Mass, including many university students who regularly attend the large and spirit-filled church. And in time, even more people streamed in after work or classes. Many of the parishioners looked as sleepy as me, and there were a number of yawns during the service. And yet, we all showed up.
The Mass wasn’t particularly moving. The homily was a bit stiff. And yet something stirred deep inside of me during the service.
It was something about all of these people coming out on a chilly Monday evening, in the midst of riots and unrest, to be together. Here we were all gathered together, just a few miles from all hell breaking loose; and we were doing so for Mother Mary, for our God, for each other. . . and also because of an obligation to do so.
You see, Catholics have obligatory Masses they must attend, including feast days and Sundays. Several years ago, when I first heard that Catholics had Holy Days of Obligation, I was frankly appalled. “Obligation,” I thought. “I don’t think so,” which is partly what sent me running for cover to the more laid-back Protestants. Truth be told, I have never liked feeling obligated to do anything.
And yet over time, as I’ve attended more Masses, I have seen the absolute beauty of this type of obligation, the holiness involved in simply showing up when we are tired, when there are many other things we’d rather do. It makes me realize that we are all together in this experience called “life,” we are all part of this Mystical Body. And when one person is missing, the Body isn’t complete.
It’s like being part of a family, something else that I have struggled with. I’m not proud to admit this, but I’ve avoided more family gatherings over the years than I have attended.
But what I learned from going to that obligatory Mass on Monday is that we are all part of a family, even if we are strangers to each other. And families stick together, during hard times and good. We support each other; we tolerate each other’s flaws and idiocyncracies. And we show up, even when we don’t want to.
And then it hit me that Catholics all over the world were attending church on that very same day and doing the same thing; and that some were putting themselves at even greater risk than us in Berkeley.
It all leaves me breathless thinking about what we are involved in, what we are a part of; something so big and powerful, that no one can truly understand it. We are the true radicals, not the anarchists looting stores and occupying buildings.
What we did, what we do every Sunday, is perhaps the most daring action of all: showing up, for each other, for God. And somehow doing this in a Berkeley church, just miles away from the mayhem, brought this all home to me.
And if people from Berkeley to Missouri to Timbuktu took the same radical step, we could finally end the madness and mayhem. Because only through God, loving God, and serving Him will there ever be any possibility of peace and unity on earth.