In the last month, I noticed the differences in a few Catholic Churches. My chosen place of worship, the one I call my “Lighthouse.” Another was the mountain parish Church we attended on our trip to North Carolina.
They all may have followed the same mass and readings, but these churches couldn’t be more different. The mountain Priests were not as polished as the Lighthouse priests. I compared the homily to the ones I usually hear.
I had to stop my critical self. I prayed to see what the Holy Spirit wanted me to see that day. God answered the prayer. Listening closely, I watched the Priest, suddenly the words faded. I saw the Holy Joy this priest had for God and his parish. The sensation felt like something fell from my eyes and I could see what God meant me to see. I could not see the joy over my own critical voice.
I am reminded of Saul’s Baptism in Acts 9:18-20*: “18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. 19So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Saul Preaches Christ 20Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. [NKJV]
The opening of my eyes is small compared to the Apostle Paul’s baptism. Even so, it changed my experience. I could not take my eyes off of the Priests and lay persons. Each held heartfelt love and joy for their church. The Priest leading the mass would look like an ordinary guy without his vestments.
When he looked up to pray, joy infused his features, and he was transformed. It was as if he saw a piece of heaven. Joy is contagious. His celebration gave me joy as I realized where I was. I was in the presence of God. I rejoiced with God.
When I returned home, I went to Mass at my home Church. I went to a later than usual service. The Church was packed! It was wonderful to see so many parishioners filling the pews for Lent. The Priest speaking was one I don’t get to hear often. He started the homily and my inner critic started up again. This time the critic asked, “Where is his joy?”
Well, I already learned my lesson! I prayed for the Spirit to guide me. This time I had to listen. The visual was not where the blessing lay hidden. This man was a teacher. He wove the pieces of scripture together applying them to our daily lives. I left with joy knowing God had given me pieces of knowledge and wisdom to apply in my life.
This morning was a Sunday I could not make it to a Church. My limitations were too great. It blessed me to stream EWTN’s rosary and the Sunday Mass onto my TV. I could nurse an aching head with coffee, PJs, the Holy Spirit, and the comforting cadence of the Mass.
When we open our senses to quiet the critic, we find God in the differences. Every one of us is unique. God creates every one of us. We are as different in how we express ourselves as we are in physical appearance. What we do for work, play, or love may be similar, but it is differences that bless us.
Roman Catholic Churches all follow the same readings daily. They observe the same seasonal rituals as other Roman Catholic Churches. Yet every congregation with their leaders bring different gifts to the table to bless God and each other.
When I prayed for guidance and paid attention, I found gifts of joy, wisdom, and comfort in three different Churches that are under the same God. This is the beauty of being different. It also made me think of a phrase in my Country’s Pledge of Allegiance: “One Nation under God.”
Like our Country, we are one people under God. Like America, we are all different with different gifts to offer. God allows us to change and grow. I am a different person than I was 30, 20, even 10 years ago. I am different than I was last March! Thank God for my growth.
God created a beautifully diverse world to inspire us.
Rejoice in it!