One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was entitled Because This May Be My Last Mass. I wrote it based on my experiences in the Marine Corps when I saw the photograph of a Navy chaplain administering the Eucharist to Marines on Iwo Jima.
I suppose it is easy to consider the idea that you may die today when you are engaged in combat. But as I sat in Church today as Lent approaches, the same thought entered into my mind. This may be my last Mass.
Will it be my last Mass? Not if I can help it. But the fact of the matter is, I really have no idea. Having just gotten over a flu bug, I realize again how poor and weak I actually am. Someone commented on my first post from sick-bay, “Have you been taking your vitamin C?” No, I have not. Not since I was almost killed in an accident have I wasted any time or money on vitamins.
Of course, I haven’t completely abandoned trying to eat “healthy” while having a balanced diet either. I just don’t think of my body as something I can control, like I may have thought at one time. Today’s readings helped me along in this, as I was reflecting that Ash Wednesday is only a few days from now and the Lenten season will begin.
Paul writes to the Corinthians and I emphasize in bold,
If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.
Before I was a Catholic, I was a fair-weather sort of Christian. It is still a temptation to be one now. You know, it’s easy when things are going right to be thankful to God. But in the Summer of 2001, I almost became dust in the sands of the Mojave Desert. Two of my comrades lost their lives. I was hospitalized for 5 1/2 weeks and convalesced for 6 months. My Marine Corps career came to an end as well.
I don’t have any memory of the event at all. My brother Marines at the scene have told me a few things. They tell me I said I wanted to see my kids, for example. My mother says I wrestled with an angel the way Jacob did. I don’t really know why I was spared. Maybe it was so I could write these words for you. To remind you that you are dust as well, and that at any moment your version of eternity will begin.
In today’s Gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord says,
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. . . . Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
Kind of leaves you with an uneasy feeling, doesn’t it? There is nothing fair-weather in those words. But they speak to my soul, if not to my body. These words also remind me of something G.K. Chesterton wrote as well,
The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.
So on Ash Wednesday, my family and I will go to Church and have the mark of the Cross traced on our foreheads. A mark that says we are not of this world. As the mark is made, these words will be said,
From dust you came and to dust you will return.
What humbling words to hear. What a subtle reminder of my own poverty. For rituals like these, I became a Catholic. Because I need to be reminded of my place in the grand scheme of things and to whom I have pledged my allegiance while I am here.
The first time we went to Church on Ash Wednesday was in 2008, right before I was accepted into the Church. I had been going to Mass for close to 18 years with my wife, and we had never gone on Ash Wednesday ever before. I remember being amazed at how many people were at the service. I remember thinking to myself, These people understand.
I’ve never missed going to Church on Ash Wednesday since, and I intend to never miss it ever again. That is, right up until my last Mass.