Today is Sunday and, as I do almost every Sunday, I stood on the stairs of my church welcoming the people who are coming to Mass. Built in the downtown area of our city, the only parking the church has is what one can find on the street and some public parking lots behind the buildings across from the church. So, the vast majority of people who come to Mass need to cross the street. It is among my favorite moments of the week, watching these faithful people arrive. I know them and they know me.
Two things struck me today as I watched the people arrive for Mass. They both have to do with burdens. Firstly, as I watched people coming to Mass, I was--as I often am--aware of the great burdens that so many people carry. I saw the young married couple whose 23 year old nephew I buried earlier this week. I saw the woman whose parents are both ill and for whom she has primary responsibility. I saw those simply carrying the burden of years, slowing down and growing feeble. There was the man whose young son died tragically a couple of years ago and the woman whose husband abandoned her and her children. There are those who are burdened by their own illnesses and those who are burdened with caring for loved ones who are ill. There are those burdened by unemployment and addiction and those burdened by the hardships in which their children find themselves. There are those burdened by situations that are so traumatic that they are still in shock. So many people cross that street with heavy burdens.
In the midst of all of this, these people arrive every Sunday with such joy and fidelity. And this Lent, they have freely taken upon themselves another burden. I was struck this weekend by how hundreds of persons crossed the street carrying large bundles. During Lent this year, we are almsgiving as a community. Each week we announce in the bulletin some particular item that a local food bank needs. We've had "Peanut Butter Sunday," "Tuna Fish Sunday," etc. This weekend is "Cereal Sunday." So, as hundreds of parishioners crossed the street today--young and old--most carried bags filled with cereal boxes. Additionally, the Youth Ministry is doing a project involving the homeless and at the request of the Youth Ministry, people also were donating cases of water and Gatorade. The back of the church is overflowing with these gifts for the poor.
These people who carry so many hidden burdens and crosses, arrived at Mass this Sunday joyfully seeking to alleviate the sufferings of others. They carried into church this morning not only their burdens, but also the burdens of others. They are an impressive lot.
In part, I stand outside of church and greet the people because I think that it is a good way of telling the people that I love them. But, I also stand out there because this procession from parking lot to church each week is a profession and proclamation of faith, hope, and charity that I need to witness. Standing on the stairs of church watching these witnesses--young and old, families, widows, and single men and women--humbly carrying their own crosses and charitably carrying the crosses of others is profoundly moving. Standing on my perch looking towards this sea of faithful Catholics coming towards God's House carrying their crosses (and peanut butter and cereal) is pure privilege. It's a weekly reminder to me of how blessed I am to be a priest. I have the best view in town.