Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and feel comfortable. I never felt that way beforehand. Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, we visited other churches rarely and when we did, it felt weird.

As a result, when on vacation we just skipped church. We didn’t know anyone, and we really weren’t missing anything except a sermon and who knew if that was going to be any good? When visiting relatives, if it happened to be a Sunday, we would sometimes attend with them, so there was a modicum of safety from being singled out as potential new members.

But if we didn’t know anyone? Nope. What was the point? We were just passing through and the fellowship of our local church would be absent and we would be like strangers and stick out like sore thumbs.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I love visiting other parishes! And I know that the fellowship of our home parish community is not the big draw anyway. The big draw is Christ and His Presence in the Eucharist. We don’t need to know anyone locally because the most important Person there knows us backwards and forwards.

The photograph above is of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, California. Full disclosure: we attended this parish the other night with my wife’s family for Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Advent Vigil Mass traditionally held before Christmas. And thanks to my in-laws, we enjoyed a catered dinner complete with Filipino dishes with about 200 of our new parish “friends.” Neat!


The second photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Washington. We attended services there this past summer when I attended a conference in that city. Run by Dominican Friars, it featured a homily given by someone dressed like St. Anthony of Padua.

Aside from a few nuances here or there, the Mass follows the same format as in our home parish, and you can count on that worldwide. Dominicans are known for their skills as preachers, so the homily was quite good too.

I have had friends who are not Catholic ask me about visiting a Catholic Church. I’ve told them that it is a very comfortable experience because if you don’t call any attention to yourself, no one will bother you. Heck, for all they know you are a super-devout contemplative so engrossed in your prayer life that they wouldn’t think of bothering you. Or if you are the outgoing type, you’d probably be welcomed like a long-lost family member and given the grand tour of the building. Now that is hospitality!


The last photograph is of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. When my family and I attended mass here, we were asked if we would bring up the gifts of bread and wine that would become the Blessed Sacrament. I said the only thing I could say: Absolutely! Yes!

Did we know where to stand or any other particulars? No. Did we know anyone there? Not a soul, except Our Lord. And when the time came for us to present the Gifts, all went well and without a hitch. What a blessing to have even been asked!

And that is how it is when we are on vacation on the West Coast now. We go to Church as a family. We’ve even been late for the English-speaking Mass and sat through a Spanish Mass before. Did I understand the words in the liturgy and homily? No. But everything that really matters we understood just fine.

This is yet another of the graces and benefits of belonging to the largest Christian Church in the world. Thanks be to God.

Because Confession Can Change the World

Posted by Webster 
To set this world spinning the right way round, I think we Catholics might need to do just one thing: Start going to confession again. Then take our kids to confession. Once a month would be OK, once a week even better. Don’t believe me? Listen to me brag about my fourth-grade CCD class.

I’m sure you could change the world if you could just get your kids alone to go to confession, as my fourth-graders did today. Stand and watch as each of them prepares in silence, goes nervously through the door into the sacristy, and comes out again with a huge grin and a “whew,” then settles down on a kneeler to say penance. You yourself would start going to confession again just because the whole thing is so impressive, so moving—and the kids look so happy when it’s over.

Last week, we prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by going over what you say and conducting a collective examination of conscience. I gave each child a piece of paper and a pencil, read them a series of questions, then told them after each question to write down any sins that occurred to them. Of course, their notes were “for their eyes only.” Here are some of the questions:

Do I think of God and speak to Him by praying each day?
Do I use the Lord’s name with reverence and love?
Do I attend Mass on Sunday or on Saturday afternoon?
Do I obey my parents and teachers quickly and cheerfully, or must I be reminded many times?
Do I obey the rules of home and school?
Am I kind to everyone?
Did I hit, kick, or in any way hurt others on purpose?
Do I make fun or say mean things to anyone?
Do I tell the truth?

There were more such questions on the list given to us CCD teachers to help our students prepare.

My kids have never been anything like this serious in any previous class. These kids chatter for a living. Suddenly, not a word. Last week, as I read the questions, they were hunched over their crib sheets like law school graduates over a bar exam. It was that intense. Biting their lips. Biting their erasers. Jiggling their feet nervously. And barely saying a word. Which is about as amazing as an entire amusement park going stone silent all at once.

I was very proud of the fourteen, out of sixteen, who showed up today. They could have blown it off, found any excuse to miss it. But I honestly think they wanted to come, even when they thought they didn’t. Even C., who was waiting nervously in his mother’s car as I walked up to the parish school building, where classes meet. His mom said he was nervous about confession and had lost his workbook for the second time. I crouched down to speak through the car window and tell C. that when I had my first confession two years ago, I was nervous as heck. I think I even used the word heck.

When attendance had been taken, Father Barnes led the way to the chapel in the convent next door to the parish school. He told the boys to remove their hats when entering the convent and showed boys and girls how to genuflect on their right knees before sitting in their pews. He asked them to be silent and prepare themselves while waiting their turn, and most were pretty good about keeping silence. Denise, the other fourth-grade teacher, and I counseled kids who looked especially nervous. Otherwise, there was that amazing, eerie phenomenon of thirty nine-year-old children sitting quietly for half an hour.

As each child came out of the sacristy, he or she pulled down the kneeler at their pew and said their penance. Then we walked back to our classrooms. I asked the children if anyone felt worse now than they did before confession. No one raised a hand. Who felt better? Everyone. Every single child.

Each child had an opportunity to talk about the experience. Then we ended with a prayer.

Because This May Be My Last Mass

Gulp . . . My eyes water, and I get a lump in my throat just looking at this photograph.

That is Our Lord on Iwo Jima, and a priest providing comfort and solace to the sheep of His flock. Young Marines in a crazy, mixed-up, madhouse of a world with death staring them right in the face. Death from a thousand angles, at any second, in diverse manners and forms, all of which are horrible.

How do they do it? I mean function in that environment? The same thing is going on in Kandahar today. How do they do it? I can’t put “it” into words that you would understand—not yet anyway.

One of my favorite Marines in the Marine Corps Roll of Honor is Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, winner of two Medals of Honor. He is famous for saying (as a Gunnery Sergeant) the following immortal phrase—”C’mon you sons-of-bitches! you wanna live forever?”—at the WW I Battle of Belleau Wood.

Looking at this photograph, whether you agree or disagree with the “reasons” for either World War (see our recent post), the Chaplain Corps provides much comfort to us troops. I wasn’t a Catholic when I was serving in the line as a Marine. (Wow, I would seriously recommend it now!) But many of us took advantage of the comfort the Padres provided.

Semper Fidelis


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