I have felt my eyes tear up at Mass on more than one occasion, and generally it is due to the moving words and music of a beloved hymn. Sometimes it is a remark or observation during a homily that hits particularly close to home. Obviously I have cried at funeral Masses, but I don’t recall tears dripping down my face and quickly ripping off my mask while hurrying to the car so that I can cry in private. Until today.
Today was Fr. Jonathan’s last Sunday Mass at our parish. I love Fr. Jonathan, and will really miss having him here. The end of June is when Bishops transfer priests within their diocese to fill the needs in other parishes. Perhaps a priest is retiring, or the needs of a parish are greater than one priest can handle. Perhaps the gifts a priest possesses are greatly needed at another parish. This is the time of year that the transfers happen.
When we first moved to Florida, and temporarily lived in the middle of the state, we attended the local Catholic church that my parents had attended when they lived there. There wasn’t a big sense of belonging, because we knew that we were only living in that city for a short time. When we bought our home, but hadn’t closed on it yet, we began our search for a Catholic church in the area.
It may seem funny that we didn’t bother looking for a new doctor or dentist, hairstylist or barber, restaurants or stores, but rather began researching our new town by looking for a church. I guess it kind of shows how important a church family is to a Catholic. We looked up the Catholic churches in the area, and I chose our church as the first to visit because it also had a school. To me, this was a sign that the church was invested in nurturing families. So we got up early on Sunday and made the long drive over to our soon-to-be new county, and went to Mass.
Fr. Jonathan presided over that Mass, and that was it. There was no need to visit the other Catholic churches in the area, this was the one, this was home. His passion and sincerity, his homilies that make you think, that speak to your heart, that inflame you with the Holy Spirit. His reverence for the Body of Christ, all of it, and in a young man not much older than our children. His preaching is truly inspired, and even guests who have gone to Mass with us have commented on the power in his words.
This, this is why I cried after saying a quick goodbye after Mass. Because of CoVid 19 social distancing, we couldn’t hug Father, or even shake his hand.
After a particularly inspiring homily last year, I recall asking him after Mass if he had ever considered videotaping Mass, or at least his homilies. He quizzically asked me, “Why?” When I perhaps awkwardly explained that I would like to be able to share it with people on social media, he commented that there are others so much more qualified than he, who already had such things available. And that the church didn’t really have the equipment to do such a thing. Little did anyone know that just a year later everyone would have to adapt to livestreaming Mass!
Fortunately, we’ve been able to attend Mass in person this past month. It seemed so disorienting at first. As per the CDC guidelines, every other pew is blocked off. We have to wear masks, and aren’t allowed to sing, so there’s no music. We can wave or bow to others, but not shake hands for the sign of peace. There are tape marks and arrows on the floor to follow when going to Communion, and sections are color coded to guide people to separate exit doors after Mass.
It’s quite different than normal, but it is SO GOOD to be able to receive the Body of Christ again! It’s funny how something that we probably took for granted for years became so missed during the months we had to stay at home. You certainly realize how going to Mass on Sunday really sets you up for the week.
During his homily, Fr. Jonathan reflected on the apostles being sent forth on their mission. Bishops send their priests forth on new missions when they relocate them to a new parish. We have to have faith and follow God’s will to go where we are needed. Even when it feels challenging to leave self behind, we have to trust and look forward to what God has planned for us. Easier said than done, huh?
So it’s sad to have said goodbye, but I am excited for the people who will now benefit from Father Jonathan’s encouraging words. And I know that God will certainly bless him for sharing his faith. Life can feel scary with all the changes and disruptions in our lives lately. But God loves us, He has a plan, and no matter how crazy the outside world may seem, we need to focus on the big picture, share our faith, and stay on the path that leads us to our final goal- eternal life in Heaven with Jesus.
Note: this photo was taken on Easter a couple years ago, before the church was repainted, and before social distancing was a thing. Sadly, I don’t have any recent photos of our church to share.