OK, full disclosure, I haven’t been to church in a while. I guess my excuse is that there’s only one mass I really like going to. It’s the 6pm evening mass at my parish St. Agnes. The singing is upbeat. The priests are hip and they give funny homilies. I’ve tried others. If I can’t make the 6pm mass, in the past, I’ve tried the 9pm candlelight mass at St. Dominic’s. B-O-R-I-N-G. If I’d rather check email on my Blackberry than listen to the homily, then there’s a problem. So I just stopped going because the alternatives weren’t good enough. For the past several Sundays, someone’s had a birthday, I was in the office working, something always came up.
This morning, we woke up and I murmured, “Is this another Sunday we’re going to miss church? My family’s celebrating Mother’s Day with dinner.”
Dean wasn’t having any of it. “No, let me get online and find something. Let’s see what mass schedules there are.”
He leapt out of bed and grabbed his laptop.
“SFArchdiocese.org,” I called out, then snoozed back in bed.
We decided on the 12:15 mass at St. Francis of Assisi in North Beach. Background: The church, built after Mission Dolores, is a national shrine. They do very few funerals or weddings. When I heard the word ‘few,’ I turned to Dean and asked, “Don’t you have any connections to this place? We need to get hitched here.”
The place is indeed gorgeous. I’ve been to lots of churches in my lifetime. This one is small, intimate, and impressive. I think it looks like Saint Chapelle in Paris. But while Saint Chapelle is very dark, St. Francis of Assisi is very bright—lots of sunlight streaming in.
We were seated, holding hands, when an old woman approached us. “Would you like to bring the gifts up for today’s mass?”
I saw the look of terror on Dean’s face. I knew he was ready to say no, but I beat him to it. “Of course. We’d be honored.”
“Baby, what does that mean? Bring the gifts up?”
“Dean, you are such a bad Catholic. It means bringing up the wine and the communion.”
He still had a look of terror on his face. “Are they going to queue us? I’ve never done this before.”
“It’ll be ok. We’ll go together. It’ll be fine. I know when to go.”
“Oh God, I hope I leave this mass without embarrassing myself!”
The priest went on to give a mesmerizing sermon about mothers. He interjected his personal life into the sermon, too. He said his mom, at the time, wasn’t a very religious person, but saw a picture of the Virgin Mary when she was pregnant with him. She said she knew at that moment, her son would be a priest. Well it took quite some time because her son left the church for 15 years, spent that time as a hippie “doing everything you can imagine,” living in Haight-Ashbury. Then found his calling. He was ordained the day before mother’s day and on mother’s day, he gave his first official mass as a priest. His mother was there and he asked if she wanted to say anything. She hobbled up the aisle and said, with tears running down her face, “I just want to light a candle. That’s all.”
When it was time for us to bring up the gifts, we pulled it off perfectly. Rather, they instructed us perfectly. But the priest did something I’ve never seen anyone do before. While receiving the gifts from us, he said, “Please wait here. I want to say some words to you before you go back to your seats.”
After receiving all the gifts–the donations, wine, and communion–he turned back to me and Dean and said, “You two look young. I imagine you haven’t been through much grief. But I’m here to tell you that when grief comes, that’s when religion begins, not when it ends. God will be there for you during that time. Remember that.”
Dean and I went back to our seats, then squeezed each other’s hands. “Whoah. That was deep.”