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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

No Matter Where I Go, I'm Never Far From Home...

Home is where the heart is...
Although reluctantly, because let's face it, outside of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, no one likes to admit to being homesick, most of us would probably agree with her that, "There's no place like home."

Oh sure, European vacations can be romantic and exciting and island getaways can be more relaxing than Tinman getting a Hawaiian Tropic massage by a Jiffy Lube Technician.

But, in all honesty, after awhile, how many more miles can you log through scenic neighborhoods, sidewalk cafes can you stop at, roofless double decker tour buses can you ride on, or old monuments and museums you can visit, before your feet start blistering? (or run out of money!)

Moreover, how many more rays of scorching tropical sun, sweet frozen rum drinks with tiny umbrellas can you consume (with calypso music playing in the background), or uncomfortable jock itch can you endure before it starts getting old? (a wet bathing suit always gets the best of me!)

Well, I don't know about you, and maybe I'm just getting old, but at some point, no matter how much fun I've had, I start longing for my own bed, getting back to my routines (even if it includes the office), seeing my friends, family and co-workers, and, let's not forget, starting my post-vacation diet!

I think it's only natural for many of us because, after all, most people like the comforts, safety and familiarity of home, our neighborhood, longtime fraternal and familial bonds and sense of belonging.  People don't call it "Home Sweet Home" for nothing!

Summer time fun under big tent...
However, no matter how far I travel, there is one place that always brings the truism of Dorothy's wisdom to life for me and that is while attending Mass with my family.

This year, unlike previous years, where my wife, kids and I have gone on road trips to North Carolina and usually stop somewhere on the way up and on the way back to South Florida, and Sundays usually catch us at a different city and parish along the way, we only went on our yearly extended-family vacation to Sanibel Island (although, my family went to Orlando  for a national dance competition for our 8-year-old without me, because I couldn't get away from work for two consecutive weeks!).

So, as I sat there at St. Isabel Catholic Church in Sanibel with our extended family, a few friends and hundreds of strangers last Sunday, I started thinking (and sometimes it does hurt!); whether we're at the St. Isabel, the modest and obscure Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Hayesville, North Carolina, where there were probably more visitors than parishioners, who all knew each other and were celebrating the homecoming of a recent college graduate by cutting a cake after Mass, or the extravagant and elaborate St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, where even well known Catholic celebrities attend in near anonymity and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary near Disney World in Orlando, or the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, Fl. and Church of the Annunciation in Chesterfield, England, aside from a variation in music arrangements on the Gloria, Agnus Dei and, sometimes, unknown procession songs, it's like being home.

And, that is what I think church is meant to be; a continuity, a familiarity, a unity, a sense of familial and fraternal bond and belonging.  It's about family; God's family; a gathering of parents, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents and distant relatives and a sharing in a family meal; a communion with those who came before us, are here with us and will follow after us.  In effect, like the college graduate in Hayesville, it's a home coming!

My home parish...
If you think about it, it's pretty remarkable to think that on any given Sunday, the same Mass that I am participating in, whether at our home parish in Coral Gables, at St. Isabel or Our Lady Star of the Sea in Ponte Vedra (near Jacksonville), is the same Mass that is being celebrated in the Vatican, in London and in the most remote parts of the world, since, it is the same Mass, as the Church teaches, that is being celebrated in heaven!

The Second Vatican Council states:
In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.  With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord...  
In his best selling book, The Lamb's Supper, Dr. Scott Hahn writes, "To go to Mass is to go to heaven," since it is where "heaven touches earth," because of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Moreover, since the Lord is One God, who, as such, transcends time and space, despite being Three Persons (stay with me here!), He cannot be separated from the Father and Holy Spirit.  Therefore, where One is all are.  And, since the Church is His Body, of which He is the head (C'mon just a little bit further!) and where the Head goes, so goes the Body, the entire Communion of Saints; those in heaven, those on the way to heaven and those of us on earth, at that precise time and place, are united with the Holy Trinity through the Blessed Sacrament. (It's like the AT&T commercial, where the child says the biggest number they can think of is infinity times infinity and the man in suit holds his hands up to his ears and says, "poof," while opening his hands and moving them away from his head, as if it was exploding!)

In any case, I was watching my favorite TV show, Journey Home, recently, and the guest, former Evangelical missionary Matthew Leonard, was explaining that when he received Holy Communion for the first time, upon entering the Church at the Easter Vigil at Franciscan University in 1998, and sat down to pray with the parish filled to the rafters, he noticed the thousands of people filing past him to receive the Eucharist and it was there that it hit him. He had become part of their family in a way that transcended his blood relations.  He had become part of the family of God in a new and most profound way; through the Sacraments.  

St. Patrick's Cathedral...
To paraphrase St. Paul, we, although many, are part of the One Body, the one Lord, one faith and one baptism.

As you can probably tell, I love the Mass.  In fact, during the past seven years, I think my family has only missed one Sunday Mass and it was because of a confusion on the schedule.  Actually, one of the first things I do when planning a vacation is to look up the nearest Catholic church to make sure we don't miss.

It reminds me of a column, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski wrote a couple of years ago, where he said:
As Catholics we belong to more than just our parish — we are members of a universal Church and therefore we are never strangers when we meet with other Catholics to celebrate the great Mystery of our Faith which is the Holy Mass....  If we are serious about our Christian commitment, we cannot neglect to recharge our spiritual batteries in the central act of our worship, the source and summit of all Christian life: the Mass. There can never be a vacation from our vocation.
Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hayesville, NC...
For me, depending on how my kids are behaving (and if you ask my wife, she might say regardless), it is an consuming and engulfing experience; the beauty, the reverence, the vestments, incense and candles.  The standing and praying together.  The singing and kneeling in acknowledging the God of the universe.  It's like using all our senses; we hear, we touch, we feel, we taste to encounter and experience the Living God.

St. Padre Pio once said, "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass."

When all is said and done, just like Dorothy and Toto in the Land of Oz, we are sojourners in this life, trying to make our way back home.  In our case, our eternal home.  And, while it may not be as easy as following the yellow brick road or clicking our heels three times, we can always find comfort and a sense of dwelling, that there is no place like, no matter how wide and far we are, at a local Catholic parish on any given Sunday...

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