Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Story of True Spiritual Communion vis a vi Bethpage Black

Given the reality of shelter-in-place, Catholics might be unable to gather in person for Mass, but that does not mean they cannot and are not still taking time for worship. Everyday I read about different parishes and faith communities offering a live stream or pre-recorded mass to gather the faithful in prayer. One that I have participated in has surpassed my expectations. I find the homily to be tremendously nourishing. I am enriched by the Spiritual Communion in faith and in friendship with those whom I worship. And today, I was reminded in the Offertory that God is the giver of the greatest gift: love—as evidenced through the book Open, by John Feinstein.
My close friends, the Boles family have invited me to join them in 9:30 a.m. Sunday mass through Church of the Nativity (and through a Zoom shared screen). We sing the songs, we stand, sit and (they) kneel. We turn down the volume during the Liturgy of the Word, as a different person leads the Readings. We exchange peace and avail ourselves for the Spiritual Communion. At the end of Mass, I feel the spiritual uplift that I do every week that I go to mass. Today's however was extra special for I left with a message of hope and of connection. 

During the offertory of the Mass, Eileen, Thomas and James each make a contribution to their family Rice Bowl. Today, they told me that they had an offertory gift for me. Through the Zoom screen, they said "we got this book for you." I looked at the cover in disbelief. I turned to my nightstand and held up my copy. I told them, "I am reading this right now. This is incredible. I can't believe you found that for me. This book is about the 2002 US Open! I am on Chapter 11." I proceeded to show them my bookmark; it is a funeral card featuring my Uncle Tim, my Godfather. I showed his picture and asked that we pray for him.
The formal definition of a spiritual communion is, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” at a time or in circumstances when we cannot receive him in sacramental Communion." But I believe the lived reality of spiritual communion is that we are united to others through God's love and grace each and every day. Today was a reminder to me that union with God and others supersedes a crisis. We are never left in isolation. 

I can't explain to you why exactly I chose to read "Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black" among hundreds of books I should be reading right now. It's notable in that Tiger Woods won and that it was played on public course (an intentional pursuit by the USGA) but it's not that extraordinary. This US Open took place 18 years ago! A friend gave it to me because he was living with Scott McCarron's caddy last year. "Open" begins with a short story involving Scott and Ryan (the caddy). I kept reading because I think Bethpage Black is the coolest name for a golf course I have heard. I am still reading it now because I have hope that I will play there this summer.Now I feel as though I must!

Eileen, who loves reading and once worked in a book store is always on the look out for good reads and books to pass along to friends. That she thought to give this to me, but in particular during the offertory says to me that the Eucharist is not to be underestimated. Communion--whether incarnational or spiritual gives us life.

As a child, I relished the opportunity to participate in the offertory of the mass. This role was made special by my grade school teachers at St. Mary' school in Walnut Creek. They saw to it that students did not just bring up the bread and wine to the altar. We offered objects and symbols reflective of the liturgical season or the efforts of our school community. For example, one student carried several textbooks while another offered a globe as we gathered for our Back to School mass. The eighth graders presented canned food at the November First Friday mass to kick off for our Thanksgiving drive. Today, I encourage athletic programs that gather for a mass to bring to the altar their cleats or unique equipment, a ball or a stick. To play a sport and participate on a team is truly a gift. Why not bring that to our mass and to the altar for blessing? 

This tradition extends outside of the Church as well. Quite often, when we visit the home of a friend for dinner, we offer a humble gift. Known as a hostess (or host) gift, this gesture is meant to extend gratitude for hospitality. More often than not, this gift is not reflective of who we are, but of the one who welcomes us into his or her place and space. Were we to think of this at Mass, what might you offer to God? What would you given?

The pastor of Church of the Nativity reminds us that this crisis will come to an end. The thematic question he asks us to prayerfully consider is: Who will we be at its conclusion?

Today affirmed for me that I want t o invite others into experiences of shared worship and prayer. I hope to offer gifts to God and to others that are reflective of who they are and what makes them special. I will continue to pray for healing for those affected by COVID-19 and for those who find themselves in isolation during these tough times. I pray that the power of Spiritual Communion extends to all those in need. And please Lord, let those of us who love golf, get back on the course by summer??? 

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