Two rather important events happened to me this week.
I'll probably ramble on trying to figure out exactly what I'm trying to say, but I hope you'll bear with me.
First event: I watched AMAZING GRACE (the movie about William Wilberforce). This was an incredible movie... not in terms of the surface things like acting, directing, cinematography, and the like (although those were good as well), but in terms of what I took away from it.
This was the story of a man in love with God, who was handed his "assignment," and worked at it faithfully despite opposition, ridicule, disallusionment, and despair. I have been thinking about this all week long, and I'm finding it difficult to put into words all that I "learned" from this movie. This will be my poor attempt:
1. God has a plan for each of us, and it may be small, or it may be something as big as taking on the slave trade in (what was then) the biggest and most important Empire in the world. William Wilberforce was someone who had the courage to live by his convictions in his own circle of influence -- which happened to be the British Parliament. Each of us is called to live that way and influence the niche we've been placed in, whether big or small.
2. Following God's plan doesn't ensure immediate "success" as we would judge it. He labored on year after year, seeing little change and much opposition. It takes God's grace (of course) and a whole lot of virtue and stamina to continue on like that.
It reminds me, on a much MUCH smaller scale, of the battles we've had to endure as parents. For example, each child, from 9 months or so on, has had to learn the lessons of "sit still" and "be quiet" during Mass. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, my dh or I has had to take the youngest one out and stand in the back, dealing with a human octopus wanting so desperately to get down and run. It is draining, both physically and emotionally, to deal with said youngest child during this time. We want to quit. We want to give up and just let them down to run. We want to ignore the fact that they are talking. We would love to just bring a toy and let them play.
But we can't.
So we endure, and wonder if what we are doing is making any difference.
And then one day (and it's happened 6 times now, so there's hope for little Miss Grace yet! *grin*) the battle stops. Our child understands and accepts that Mass time means we sit still and we don't talk.
We didn't see any changes during all the Sundays before that, but obviously they were happening. And it took all those apparently "fruitless" times to make the breakthrough happen.
In the same way, it took Wilberforce's continued work, year after year after year, to bring about the changes in society that were so desperately needed.
3. As outsiders/audience members, it is easy to see the changes happening, and to cheer him on as he continues to struggle (much like the saints do for us today). If I place myself in the mind of the character, however, it's clear that he has no such assurance that he will EVER see success. There's no guarantee that we will get to see the end result of things. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, we're not called to be successful, we're called to be faithful.
4. In the end, Wilberforce does get to see the fruits of his labors, and he is recognized by his peers for his tireless efforts throughout the years. For most of us, that recognition won't happen until we reach Heaven -- but my goodness, what an amazing thing that will be! Little sacrifices... little victories won that we thought no one knew about will one day be known, and we will be awed -- like the character in the movie -- by the recognition received.
5. Any movie that features the song "Amazing Grace" played on bagpipes is going to get to me. Period.
Second event: Palm Sunday Vigil Mass at St. Mary's.
Our Bible study tries to make "a pilgrimage" every few months or so to St. Mary's for confession, Mass, and then dinner afterwards. We decided to make this past Saturday our day. After a great confession experience, we had about an hour to kill before Mass, so we decided to make the trip across town to the Catholic bookstore (there is NO Catholic bookstore anywhere near us, so a trip like this is hard to pass up).
You know how "all things work for our good.."? In this instance, it was the woman who was checking us out. Bless her heart, she was SLOW. I mean really, really slow. She wasn't going to hurry the checking out process, no matter how many "HURRY UP!!!" vibes I was sending her way. Nope. She was just going to be thorough and methodical. (it was enough to almost make me want to cry out of frustration). We jumped in the car (AFTER 5:00) and had to make our way back across town for a... yep... 5:00 pm Mass. I was trying to hurry, and I kept thinking to myself, "Why? Why do we have to be late? I've been so excited about this trip and now here we are, late, late, late..."
We finally made it... got a parking space... and hustled into Mass. It was completely crowded, of course, and I thought we'd have to make due with standing in the back... until one of the women in our group had the brilliant idea of checking to see if we could sit in the choir loft.
This was basically the view that I had.
As Fr. Longenecker turned ad orientum for the Liturgy of the Eucharist (which does not happen in my parish), I was overwhelmed by what I saw -- a sea of people, with the priest in front of us all, "moving forward" to worship God. I can't put this into words, but it was profound for me. I didn't realize it until then, but when the priest is facing the congregation, it just "feels" different. For me, the "flow" (oh, I know I'm not expressing myself well!) stops right there with the celebrant of the Mass. As I was kneeling in the back, however, taking in the whole atmosphere, it just "felt" right -- it was almost as if I could imagine a current of worship starting behind me, flowing through the congregation, through Fr. Longenecker, to the altar and the tabernacle, and then whoosh! Straight up into Heaven itself. It wasn't an emotional experience at all -- rather, it was more of a "Oh! So this is how it's supposed to be!" sort of impression.
Sigh. I can't describe it, so you'll just have to believe me. It affected me greatly.