Dear Parishioners and Friends of the Sandusky Catholic Parishes,
I was raised in a small parish in Clyde, Ohio. There were some days when I was young, my mom would take us to St. Mary’s Church and we all vacuumed the floor. She would periodically shout at us to make sure we cleaned beneath the third pew along the right center for that is where Frank and Joan Bennett sat. They sat in that pew every single Sunday and Frank wasn’t even Catholic. Mr. and Mrs. Dick’s pew was given extra attention. They were an old couple and they probably began attending our parish the Sunday after the Council of Nicea so they claimed a certain spot.
I see the same phenomenon here in the parishes. Many people sit in the same place even if they are not of the parish. Last Sunday, a couple who had moved to Arizona three years ago, came for Mass and they sat in the same place they did before they moved. As I saw them a Geiger counter went off in me. I decided that instead of radioactivity, it was measuring something else…Fidelity.
Spirituality is a watchword at the moment, and rightfully so, but a well-known director had a point when he once said that 90 percent of life consists of just showing up. Consider for example, what it takes to belong to a small parish like St. Mary’s in Clyde. Because the parish is small and rural, the Bishop used to change pastors pretty regularly. Frs. Smaelzer, Hermann, Drwyer, Steiter and Wirries were pastors in the first fifteen years of my life. Some were conservative, some progressive. Some illustrated their sermons from the Preacher’s, it was edited in 1921 so there were examples of WW I, and some used contemporary examples. One stayed only a couple of years and he was beloved because he was funny, smart, and could hit the ball a mile.
Through it all, so many in the congregation never wavered. They might not have liked some new theological twist or liturgical gambit, but they didn’t complain much. They all took turns and volunteered at vacuuming or Church festivals or Bingo in order to keep the school going. They did an awesome amount of labor that even a small Church like St. Mary’s requires if it is to keep going.
It is easy to say that this doesn’t add up to a daring relationship with God, that it’s Martha and Mary come to life, that routine can suck the meaning out of something as embracing as the Gospel. But as a young child I was attracted by the sheer dogged devotion of the regulars and I still am to this day in our Churches.
Advent speaks of the faithfulness of God to us. From the scriptures it looks like Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews, going to the temple at Passover and no doubt attending the synagogue on Saturday. Advent speaks of faithfulness and trust in God and responding to it as Mary did when she trusted that what the angel said to her would be fulfilled.
My generation, and probably the generations that have come after me, have been good at many things, but tenacity, faithfulness, is not one of them. Sometimes in fact, we simply want too much. We want marriages that complete us, fulfill us in every way, and make us whole instead of marriages where, on most days, it’s enough to live faithfully together, giving each other the benefit of the doubt. We want religious experiences instead of the experience of being religious. I don’t know what it must have been like to inhabit the medieval world where the church was simply the air one breathed, but I think I had a sense of it in my young life by the regulars who inhabited my Church world and still do.
Advent is about fidelity. Look around and see examples of it all around. It will help us all to understand Christmas better.