“Unknown Caller” appeared on my phone.
I knew it was either spam or Fr. McCarthy. Father wants to make sure people call the parish office, so he keeps his cell number private. Since it was the morning of Christmas Eve, I took a chance and answered. Father’s business-like voice launched into a request:
“Would you and your sons be ushers for tonight’s 5:30pm Mass?”
“Sure, how many do you need?”
He replied that he had 3 already and needed 3 more, adding that the ushers got a pew reserved for their family. Now that was great news! With 9 of our kids home – plus a new son-in-law – we needed seating for 12. I got off the phone and happily reported to my wife Maria that this Christmas there would be plenty of room for our family at Mass. Little did I know how true that would be.
Three of my sons and I arrived early for usher training. Due to COVID regulations, every other pew was roped off. We were instructed to greet each family, ask their party size and seat them from the front of the church to the back; no one was allowed to seat themselves. To make sure there were no incidents with anyone who might be directed away from our beautifully-decorated church into the basement overflow seating, Father had hired a friendly-looking police officer to be present at the back of church.
Escorting each family to their place had the feeling of a wedding. With the first few families seated, we had our system figured out. Then, it happened.
I went to the Narthex for another family, but…only the ushers were there. I glanced at my phone. 5:10p.m., and the church was mostly empty. Perplexed, I looked to the parking lot. No one. Over the next 20 minutes, only 4 more families showed up, one of which was my own.
Dressed in the regal vestments of the feast, Father McCarthy entered through the side doors of the narthex with the altar boys. He glanced expectantly into his church and then stood still. After a moment, he looked to us. I spoke the painful truth:
“That’s everyone, Father…”
I could feel his disappointment.
As the glorious entrance music filled the practically-empty church, a mounting sorrow began welling up within.
The Father’s Pain
Just hours before, my daughters had been beautifully decorating the kitchen table for our traditional post-Mass Christmas feast. We had carefully prepared the scrumptious meal, hors d’oeuvres, and special drinks. As a father of ten, I had been joyfully anticipating a full house that evening with almost all my children present to celebrate. But now, how could I? My Father had done the same. He had prepared the greatest meal ever, the Feast of His Love, the sacrifice of His life given for ours. The magnitude of His gift will enrapture every fiber of our being for eternity. And when He throws open the doors to His most intimate inner self, astonishingly, few of the invited bother themselves to be present at this feast, in reality our very own wedding feast with God.
As the Nativity Gospel was proclaimed, waves of sadness washed over me. 2000 years ago Our Lord was arriving as a babe, and almost all received Him not. He had hidden His majesty to the eyes of most men. This night, cloaked in the Eucharist, would there again be no place for Him to lay His Head? Would His own receive Him not? Would we again not recognize the time of our visitation, God’s arrival to be with us and save us for sharing in His divine nature?
God’s Desire and Great Delight
God revealed to St. Faustina:
I desire to unite Myself with human souls; My great delight is to unite Myself with souls. Know, My daughter, that when I come to a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things.
They have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces.
Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object.
Our Lord’s words reveal His tortured heart longing for our yes, our trust in His infinite goodness. Yet His torture at being ignored is nothing compared to His agony when a soul seals itself eternally in rejection of His love. “The loss of each soul plunges Me into mortal sadness.”
This Christmas Eve, God was giving me a gift – one I did not expect, but one I could not refuse. His gift was a glimpse of His mortal sadness, the sadness that pierces His rejected Heart and caused Him to sweat divine blood. “Will you not watch one hour with Me?” So, I watched and suffered with my Father in His empty house.
Dispensation from Affection?
A priest friend of mine lamented, “Michael, our Mass attendance is only 30-40% of pre-COVID numbers. I see grandparents sitting close together in the bleachers of kid’s sporting events, but they won’t show up for Mass. Few children are being brought to Mass. I’ve checked with other pastors nearby and they’re experiencing the same sad fallout from the dispensation of our Sunday worship obligation. How many will never return?”
For some, there is an understandable concern for their health amidst COVID. But how many risk their health to buy groceries? Isn’t eternal food worth the risk to physical health more than temporal food? And when it comes to dispensations, if my wife offered me a dispensation from showing her affection, would I take her up on that? What relationship survives the absence of affection? And if one way of showing love is removed, would not a faithful lover multiply other means?
In communist Poland during the late 60’s, Cardinal Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, was denied permission from the government to build a new church in the Krakow suburb of Nowa Huta. Rallying his creativity, he held public mass in an open field on the spot of the proposed church. He did not fail to show his love for Our Lord and His flock. At this hour, can we do any less?
You at least, come to Me
“All things work together for the good for those who love Him.” – Rom 3:17
God doesn’t share His sorrow for no reason. He has a plan. His plan always involves drawing souls closer to Him. God revealed that plan to St. Faustina and how we can personally console His agonized Heart:
If only they could understand that I am the best of Fathers to them and that it is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with mercy. For them I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy. I desire to bestow My graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them. You, at least, come to Me as often as possible and take these graces they do not want to accept. In this way you will console My Heart.
If you are reading this article, you are most likely Catholic, and as such hold the power to console Our Lord’s Heart in a way that no non-Catholic ever can. You can go to Him, receive Him worthily, and refresh His broken Heart. You can offer your Holy Communions in reparation for the indifferences of your brothers and sisters. You can also invite them to acts of love again, to showing affection to your good and generous God who desires your affection more than you can imagine.
In Isaiah 62, the prophet proclaims God’s promise of vindication for Jerusalem, “You shall be called My Delight is in her.. for the Lord delights in you.” And, “You shall be called frequented, a city not forsaken.” In this time of desolation, may we vindicate our God and soothingly pledge, “You shall be called my delight is in You… for we delight in You Father!” And “You shall be frequented, a God not forsaken!”
The same occurred at my parish. The “Children’s Mass”, traditionally with people standing on the walls and 50 in the Narthext (attendance usually 2000 souls) was less attended than Sunday Mass during Covid. There may have been 100 people. They didn’t have enough kids to fully recreate the remembrance of Our Lord’s Incarnation. And why would people show up? Our bishops have made it abundantly clear: it’s not a big deal.
Yes, the anemic Mass attendance is so hard to endure.
Even though my children are 22 and 20 respectively, and the younger special needs, I still feel an obligation as their father to guide them on the path to Heaven. I am a lucky man in that, I don’t have to fight with them to pray our daily Rosary, or go to Mass. I would be saddened beyond belief if they did not practice their devotion to our Lord. We are all children of God, if one of us leaves the fold, he will leave the 99 to rescue the one that has strayed. I couldn’t fathom His sadness at the loss of the faith in today’s world. Thank you Michael for your beautiful insight. I will remember to bring my “brothers and sisters”, who have been away from the church, along with me spiritually, at every Mass, Rosary, and moments of Faith, and pray that they return to the Fold! GBY
I attended my Christmas church service online. They made a video program for the children’s service, complete with Angel’s, shepherds and sheep. No, it was not the same, but a great effort nonetheless. These are difficult times we live in. I am grateful that despite the pandemic, worship is still possible, and the more we will appreciate our togetherness when it can be done safely. Until then we must persevere for the greater good.
Thanks Andy. Agreed. We for sure need to be grateful that we still have the option to worship. I look forward to the day when we will again be “free to worship Him without fear.” (promise in the Canticle of Zechariah).
May that day come speedily!
The church we go to for Christmas Eve service is normally packed. We opted to stay home so others could have our pew. I was hoping there would be people in church.