April 15, 2016
Dear fellow pilgrims,
Yesterday, there was a rally for Bernie Sanders in Washington square park, a place I am privileged to know as my daily stomping grounds. Usually, I am very averse to large crowds, so I wanted to leave the NYU campus as soon as I could. However, I felt the need to stay for 5:15 Mass at the Catholic Center, since this has become a part of my daily routine and lately I have become more and more desperate for daily communion. I was feeling initially a bit annoyed at the thought of praying the highest prayer of our faith with a soundtrack of Bernie-Sanders-rally playing in the background, but as the Mass began, I had a much different experience. I am, again, privileged to say that when I tell my grandkids about that time when this crazy thing called the 2016 presidential election happened, I will in the same breath tell them about this experience I had at Mass.
If you have never been to the Catholic center, here are few key details: it’s bordering Washington square park, and when the priest faces the congregation, he faces the park. (In one of Fr. Sebastian’s explanations of why he faces the other way during Mass sometimes, he mentioned how seeing a food cart with signs like “PICKLE CRUNCH” right outside the windows can get distracting. Can’t imagine why.) nevertheless, Mass happens and Our Lord rests in the tabernacle right by a major public landmark…most people don’t even know how fortunate they are because of that! (And, to be honest, we will never fully comprehend how fortunate we are; we must always ask for that childlike vision and gratitude.) Sometimes, during Mass, people walking by will look into the long, floor-to-ceiling windows to see what’s going on, but most of the time Mass routinely occurs with few interruptions.
But yesterday, Fr. Sebastian walked in to some Bob Marley background music, and our communion hymn of meditation was sung by Pearl Jam. (“Evidence of our modern church…” – Fr. Sebastian) Needless to say, conditions were different, but this allowed God to reveal some precious truths that I could not have seen otherwise.
Before Mass began, I sat there, looking out behind me into the park, and thought to myself: “Jesus must have drawn crowds like these… If only these people knew that Who they really seek when they seek justice and fairness will meet us here, in this room, very soon.” I had a visual of us in the chapel, waiting on Jesus, amidst the tens of thousands teeming outside our walls, waiting for a revolutionary political figure.*. Music was booming outside, people were loudly chanting protests, but in the midst of that, our little bell rang, we stood up, and Mass began; the low hush of familiar prayers filled my heart with peace and poignancy.
How often are our hearts swayed by the booming messages of current trends or fascinations in public figures or promises or cures? How often do we let them sink in slowly, and pull us away from the sacred, quiet place of relationship with God in our hearts? The major lie we begin to believe is that answers for our questions ARE found in this world, while God slowly recedes from view, or shows up as an answer only after other tries have failed. But the answer to all our questions are always, always found only in God. The answers to our anger are in His embrace, the answer to our pain and anguish is in His Cross, the answer to our loneliness is in His Communion, His Incarnation.
Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, as the Greek symbols on the Easter candle remind us, as well as the gospel reading from yesterday:
Jesus said to the crowds,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
But I told you that although you have seen me,
you do not believe.
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
There was such hunger in those crowds, such thirst! This is our universal human inheritance: incompleteness; God is our universal cure.
As I heard the gospel reading, I felt the heart of God yearning for those crowds, the love of God in the unimposing, hushed voice, and not through a bullhorn. How sad, and yet, how loving is this invitation whispered as people walk on by and place their hope in a system or a person that will never truly satisfy them.
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
These words seemed highlighted in my mind as I prayed them, and I took great comfort and stability in their truth. Throughout this crazy election year, I invite us all to pray and believe these words again and again. This is the bookend belief of the Lord’s Prayer: all things will be rendered unto Him in the end.