Day Four: Hey! Crazy Lady!

So far, all this church-going hasn’t made me a kinder, gentler person. This morning, one of the dogs refused to go to the bathroom in the backyard. She is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but she sure knows when she’s being cheated out of a walk. I followed her around the property, imploring her to “do her business,” but she was having no part of it. After 10 minutes, it was clear that her business was only going to be done around the block.

As I led her back inside to get a bag, I let out every expletive known to man. “Why can’t you go to the bleeping bathroom in the yard? I don’t have time to take you on a bleeping walk. I’m so tired of this bleep. Now I’m going to be bleeping late for my bleeping job.”

The dog turned to look at me at the end of my rant with an expression that clearly said, “What the bleep is wrong with you, crazy lady?”

Who knows? I certainly wasn’t planning on chewing out my dog with four-letter words. And I wasn’t really mad at her; I was just mad. I can’t even figure out why. But about two minutes into our walk, I justifiably felt like a fool. Lucky for me, dogs don’t remember much. She was more than happy to lick my face before I left for work.

Clearly, I need more church. So today I am at the noon Mass at St. Malachi in Ohio City. I get there three minutes late, and I’ve already missed the first reading. I do a quick head count and see that there are only 14 people here, including me. That makes me sad at first, but then the elderly priest gingerly steps down from the altar, leans against the first pew and begins his homily. It’s clearly off-the-cuff but very engaging. It feels more like a conversation with a close group of people.

In the first reading (which, again, I missed), a few of the soon-to-be-disciples ask Jesus where he is staying. His response: “Come and see.” The priest at St. Malachi points out that Jesus really didn’t “stay” anywhere. He probably wanted them to see His ministry, what He was doing throughout the day. After they saw all of that, they were hooked. (Bad pun. The early disciples were fishermen.)

St. Malachi is an excellent example of a parish that sees where Jesus is staying and chooses to meet Him there. The church offers more than a half-dozen ministries to parishioners as well as to the poor and homeless in the community. On any given day, you find volunteers serving meals, sorting donated clothing and offering compassionate conversation. The Back Door Ministry provides meals to anyone who shows up, 365 days a year. The Clothing Ministry distributes clothes every Friday. The Phone Outreach Ministry ensures that parishioners feel connected to the church.

(Interested in volunteering? Visit the St. Malachi website: http://www.stmalachi.org. )

(Also, check out the beautiful Pieta statue at the back of the church.)

The priest also tells us that today is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I’m reminded about her life, and I’m even more ashamed of my early-morning outburst. By the age of 30, Elizabeth was widowed, penniless and caring for five small children. I wonder if she ever went on a swearing tirade over her fate. If she did, it was short-lived, because she soon took a keen interest in the Catholic Church and opened the first religious-based school in the United States. It was the beginning of Catholic education in America.

Clearly, Elizabeth had no time for a woe-is-me pity party. She may not have known that her life would be relatively short (she died of tuberculosis at 46), but she sure lived like she did.

How many of us live like that? If I did, would I just take the dogs for a walk instead of wasting time in the backyard? Would I tone down the expletives and stop acting like a minor inconvenience is equivalent to being widowed and penniless? That’ll be some good stuff to ponder when I take the dogs for a long walk this evening.

Day Two: Then Who Are You?

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.