The Jewish leaders were quite perplexed by John the Baptist as he dunked people in the river and talked about the coming of the savior. Who did this guy think he was?
Maybe he thought he was Elijah? No, he tells them. A prophet? Nope? The actual Messiah? Heavens, no! In reply, and no doubt to confound them even more, he uses words from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”
It’s good that John knows who he is and what his purpose is on this earth. Many of us are less certain. To make that point clear, the priest giving the homily today says that we spend half our lives trying to find ourselves and the second half finding out who we really are. This throws me for a loop. When exactly does the first half end and the second half begin? And when you get to the point where you start to figure out who you really are, does that mean your life is half over? It can get a little overwhelming if you think about it too much.
To steady myself, I take a look around at the congregation attending the noonday Mass at St. John the Divine, the seat of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Three observations surprise me: 1.) There are a lot more people here than I expected at noon on a Wednesday (unless I wasn’t the only one who resolved to attend Mass every day in 2019). 2.) The congregation is on the young side (everything being relative to my own age, I’m using “young” to mean 40 and below). 3.) The majority of the congregants are male. And they sing loudly and with great enthusiasm. I feel a little bad that I expected to see just a smattering of gray-haired ladies at a weekday service, but through these observations, I get the feeling that daily churchgoing is by no means an archaic practice.
In fact, it’s rather refreshing. An intimacy permeates the weekday Mass, something that you don’t get at your typical Sunday service. Music is used sparingly so the emphasis is on the reverence of the occasion. When Mass is over, many of the congregants linger in the church to say an extra prayer or to light a candle.
Speaking of candles, I’ve decided to light one in front of a large black-and-photograph of St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta. Although many beautiful statues line the cathedral, this image of Mother Teresa, tucked into a back corner, is my favorite. Her image is clear and raw. You can see every line in her face and feel the devotion in her eyes. For some reason, she has no lit candles before her, so I’m happy to offer the first one. Except, I don’t have any singles. So I dig and dig and dig in my wallet and pull out about 78 cents. For a minute, I’m embarrassed. I hate the thought of all that loose change clanking at the bottom of the donation box. I wonder if the money slot will react like a snack machine, spitting out my pennies and telling me in bold red letters that I haven’t inserted enough money.
Thankfully, it doesn’t. My money drops in, however loudly, and I’m able to light a candle. I look at Mother Teresa, and her lips are ever so slightly curved upward. Her warm eyes look approvingly at me. She doesn’t seem to be asking me who I am. Apparently, she knows why I’m here.