The People of God in Joy and Sorrow

The sky early this morning was a terrible-beautiful slate gray, shot through with black. A cold mist seemed to hang in the air, threatening rain. I don’t complain about days like this. Incessant sunshine is intolerable. Blue skies and spring flowers are sweet and lovely, but give me the grays and ambers of autumn any day.

It was particularly fitting today. My wife, daughter, and I were out for daily mass, which was said in memory of my father. Today he would have been 91, and it’s been 3 months since he died. Those have been surprisingly tolerable months. He was well-prepared for his passing, and so were we.

There was something powerful and potent in the grieving process, wrapped as it was in the embrace of family, faith, and ritual. Yes, it was a painful and protracted passing, but also one with amazing moments of inescapable grace. The veil between life and death was very thin in that sickroom, and all of us, including the nurses, were aware of the immanence of heaven.

The mass today reminded me of something else we do as the people of God. As is the custom at many morning masses, the congregation can voice their own intentions, to which we all respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.” This was the people of God, bringing their concerns and needs before the altar, and laying them there, collectively.

We prayed for the sick, for the suffering, for the lost, for the struggling: strangers, friends, family, and just people in the news. Each prayer was just a glimpse of a story and the lives they involved, but we brought those stories into us for just a moment, held them close, and then offered them to heaven. And then we shared in the bread of life, the reason for our hope and our joy.

I am a solitary person. With the exception of my family, I don’t really interact with people much, except when I teach. The idea of “community” is very abstract for me, yet I value it nonetheless. Perhaps it’s easy for me to value community since I avoid participating in it, but I know that whenever I have needed it, it has been there for me. And I, in turn, have done my best to be there for others in their time of need.

I value it for a very important reason: because there is no Church of I.

Let me correct that: there is a Church of I: it’s called “the world,” and we are asked to turn away from it. We are called to be the People of God: plural, not singular. I don’t do plurality well, but I know that this pilgrim people is as much a part of my faith as my studies or prayers or scripture.

I felt that today again when strangers lifted their voices in prayer for the soul of my father, and I in turn lifted mine in prayer for their needs. We are bound up in this body of Christ, together. We are part of a great communion larger than the sum of its parts, and in that body we live and move and have our being.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • MeanLizzie

    I’ve had that sort of experience. It’s very humbling, indeed. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2008/11/23/falling-into-community/

  • Maggie Goff

    Beautifully written, Tom. I identify with you so much.

  • joannemcportland

    Thank you. This is what we need to remember in the midst of all the stuff that threatens to separate us. Your father’s birthday gift to you, and to us all.


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