Wow, it’s been over a month since I last contributed to Reflections of a Lay Catholic. I’ve been a bit busy and have been traveling for business and, I guess you could say, pleasure, as well. The business stuff is pretty boring but I am going to share some relevant experiences from those so-called pleasure trips.
I mentioned in a previous blog post that my youngest daughter, Grace, is a senior in high school and is trying to discern where she will spend the next four or five years of her life. She is a rather independent young woman and has no issues about attending a college far from our home in Ohio. Some schools under consideration are Mississippi State University, the University of Washington (Seattle), and Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri. In the last couple months we have traveled to ten universities for college visits and made quick drive-throughs at a couple more.
Four weekends ago we combined a college visit to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana on Friday followed by a visit to Champaign, Illinois on Saturday to the University of Illinois for a U of I versus Miami of Ohio football game. My oldest daughter, Sara, is a graduate of Miami and her new husband, Andy, is a graduate of U of I and they came back to Illinois from Seattle for the game. Andy is from Peoria, Illinois and we met up with him and Sara, and his family for the game. Afterwards, Andy gave Grace and the rest of us a tour of the University of Illinois campus. The part relevant to this post is that before we left town on Sunday morning to head home we attended mass at St. Patrick’s Church of Merna near Bloomington, Illinois. It was a new, modern, very nice and large church surrounded by cornfields on the outskirts of Bloomington.
There was nothing particularly out of the ordinary or special about attending mass at St. Patrick’s other than the usual pleasure of experiencing the nuances from one church to the next. The Gloria and the Alleluia were to different tunes but I’ve come to expect them to be different because they have been different at every one of the many churches I’ve attended this year. But, regardless of the differences or similarities, taking time to attend mass while on the road in out-of-the-way communities is, to me, a blessing in disguise. The unique ambiance at each church, the previously unheard voices of the lectors and cantors, and the unfamiliar cadence of the priest or deacon delivering the homily, all capture your attention and I feel I receive a special grace, a feeling that the Holy Spirit is especially present in my heart.
Such was the case the following weekend on another trip to yet another college campus. We scheduled a visit to Washington University in St. Louis for Monday, 7 October. We decided to combine it with a visit to my parents in southeast Missouri on Saturday and Sunday before heading to St. Louis on Sunday evening. Rather than attend mass at the small church in my home town we decided to attend the 9:00 p.m. mass at St. Francis Xavier College Church on the campus of St. Louis University. We arrived at St. Francis Xavier and, upon parking the car, this was my view of the church. What a beauty!
We entered the church about twenty minutes early and we were awed by the grandeur of its interior. This wasn’t any old church – in my opinion it was a cathedral by no stretch of the imagination. After marveling at the interior architecture I was struck by the two lines of students waiting their turn for reconciliation. I’m talking students, now, ages eighteen to twenty-two. Not something you see every day! We selected a pew towards the rear of the church and as the clock ticked down the church began to fill up with students. Busting-at-the-seams-wall-to-wall students!
By the time mass began I estimated there to be well over 1,000 students in attendance. There was a student choir situated behind the altar with the musical accompaniment of a couple guitars. The music was upbeat and clear but by no means was it a rock concert. All rituals were sung with the exception of the Our Father and the music and words were all illustrated in the bulletin that was distributed upon entering the church. There was no mumbling – the congregation sang loudly and clearly and it was a beautiful noise. It was obvious there were many students who were non-Catholics. Two young women sitting directly in front of us knew all the words to the rituals and participated in every way a Catholic would participate except for when they walked to the altar. Instead of receiving communion they crossed their arms and asked to be blessed. When it came time to say the Our Father, students moved out of their pews and into the aisles creating a connected chain of hands from one side of the church to the other. At the Sign of Peace students walked up and down the aisles finding friends upon whom they particularly wanted to wish the Peace of the Lord. It was simply an awesome sight to behold. I found myself grinning from ear to ear and working hard to hold back what I wasn’t sure would be either laughter or tears of happiness. I looked at my wife and could tell she was feeling the same way. I think even Grace, in all her stoicism, was appreciative of the moment. Upon exiting the church I couldn’t help but feel tremendously blessed to have been a part of something so special, and, for most parishes, so unusual, in what was one of the most beautiful churches I had ever attended mass. And to think this happens every Sunday night! I told Gracie I wouldn’t mind at all if she decides to attend St. Louis University. I would come visit her just so we can go to mass together!
There are many things I would have done around the house and at work over the last two months. But spending time with my wife and daughter, traveling between and checking out colleges, visiting new churches along the way, and connecting with the Holy Spirit in unfamiliar surroundings has made the extra effort required upon returning home all the more worthwhile.
We have one more trip to make this month – to Lake Charles, Louisiana to visit our daughter, Mary. While there we will make a return visit to our old home church, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Lake Charles, another beautiful church. Stay tuned for a post in a couple weeks! In the meantime, take time to go and check out another church in a town near to, or far from, you and see how it feels. Check back in and let me know.
God Bless You All.
Catherine M. Townsend said:
I loved this one, Jerry! It is so exciting to visit a church that “does something” for your soul like this. Can’t wait to see you for just a minute or two when you get to Lake Charles! Catherine
Jerry Robinson said:
Hi Catherine, thanks for the comment! Every new church is a unique experience for me but what made the visit to St. Francis Xavier in St. Louis so special were the students. They were there because they wanted to be. Their parents didn’t coax them to go. While I understand it is kind of the social thing to do on Sunday nights at SLU, you could tell they weren’t there just to hang out, they were there to participate, praise and worship. It was so cool.
We are looking forward to our visit in Lake Charles and will certainly have more than just a minute or two for a visit with you. We will be arriving on Friday morning by way of Austin-College Station-Houston (Grace is visiting Texas A&M on Thursday), and leaving on Sunday.
Love to you and Jeff.