intentional living · Mass

“People Watching at Mass” by Callie Nowlin

I have a confession to make. I have developed a habit during Mass that might look a little odd at first glance. Essentially its people watching, but what I am actually doing is looking for Christ in the Mass.

Take this past week for example. A family with young children were in front of me. Toys multiplied, children climbed on Mom, boy sprawled across the pew with eyes staring up at me. Those eyes by the way, said very clearly that he was at this point more than ready to go home after the eternity of the hour they were experiencing. Anyone who knows me would likely expect this would be a recipe for disaster, especially if I am trying to pray. However, these are some of the most precious moments to me in Mass.

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We are taught that Christ is present in the Mass in the priest, the Gospel, the Sacrament, and the people gathered in sacrifice. That is one way to say that he is wonderfully present throughout the Mass.

Some people I know worship quite austerely and devoutly. Their bodies seem rigid and quiet. And when I see them praying, I tend to feel like a “bad German.” Not that I care but even as a convert I have a twinge of German Catholic guilt in the back of my mind. One of the ways that I worship, however, is by taking it all in. Jesus, whom I adore, is present and I don’t want to miss a thing.

  • People shifting in their seat during a difficult homily? Jesus is there.
  • An individual begrudgingly being conscripted into serving as an usher because someone thought it would be nice if the young would participate in Mass? Jesus is there.
  • A priest pausing to adjust the height of the missal in the hands of an altar server? Jesus is there.

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For me being aware of all of the people, the art, and the music, in the sanctuary, is not a distraction. Rather, for me it is deep prayer. I may not be able to understand how God is present in the incidental or the mundane, but I always welcome His presence and His insight into His person and nature.   It allows me to pray for and with those present, and it allows me in a limited way to hear God speak to His people.

I am not claiming anything audacious here. I am no more a prophet than the next baptized Christian. But as Christians we are not alone in this relationship. It is necessarily communal. And when Christ is offering himself in the utmost humility of bread and wine to you, he offers it in the sight of all.

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I am reminded of when a young man kneels in public to ask for the hand of a lady in marriage. So, to here Jesus waits for yours and my response. Will you accept with joy? Will you brush it off as mundane and expected? Will you utterly reject Him? And once again I am left in awe of his wonderful love for us. These are the kinds of thoughts that may go through my mind during Mass, as I watch the people around me.

So, I ask for your forgiveness in advance, in case my eyes may wander in Mass, or if you notice me staring at something or even yourself during the liturgy. I assure you I am not really looking at you.

I am looking at Jesus, whom I love.

People Watching Looking at Jesus

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intentional living · Laudato Si

“How Pope Francis Changed my Fashion” by Callie Nowlin

It wasn’t the fancy red Italian leather shoes that traditionally are worn by the Pope. (I am not kidding these are gorgeous!) Nor is it the yards of white linen that he wears. No, rather it is who he is and what he teaches.

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I would not normally call myself trendy or even fashionable, and while there is nothing particularly wrong with either in themselves. I just don’t historically give a whole lot of thought in what I wear every day. And for me “not thinking about it” means that I had a closet busting full of clothes that I never wore, didn’t fit, and didn’t work together.

Fast forwarding to this past year, I participated in a book study on Laudato Si with some colleagues and at the end of each session someone would inevitably ask how they could possibly apply what we read to our lives. These are lofty concepts for wide reaching problems, so far beyond our individual reach.  That being said something unexpected happened. The words of the Pope stuck with me, as did it’s principles.  The results of that study kept popping up in surprising areas of my life. And for example, I would find myself staring at my closet as lines of the encyclical would echo in my head.

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Did I mention my closet was bursting at the seams? Clearly, something wasn’t right. That combined with a growing slight jealousy of my students who got to wear a uniform every day and I eventually knew things needed to change.

So, I started reading articles about the capsule wardrobe trend. It’s based on a concept that people should be intentional with one’s wardrobes to maximize the number of outfits with less items. Some quite extreme. But often these capsule wardrobe posts I would find were just another excuse to buy more and expensive things (every few months!) because they would also incorporate each seasons ridiculous tends. Clearly the poster had priorities that were different than mine.

This STILL didn’t address the issue I was having in trying to simplify life, living less “self-centered and self-enclosed” and still being accessible in my everyday life. While I admire Steve Jobs every day wearing the same shirt and pair of pants, that just didn’t seem like a good fit for me. Let’s be honest, if I literally wore the same thing every day, I would get more than the isolated odd glance.

Capsule wardrobes at this point seemed either confining or excessive. Once again Laudato Si echoed … “Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of obsession with consumption.” (222) Deep enjoyment free of obsession with consumption was what I wanted. It was clear that I needed to pray.

And pray I did. Not about clothing, or closets, or shoes.  I prayed as I gathered all my clothes and asked a few hard questions, which I hope to discuss later. What resulted, however, in addition to donating three fourths of my wardrobe, was a dramatic change in how I approach this room of my house as something more than just a holder of my things.

“Nevertheless, self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today.” (219)  The point here isn’t self-improvement in isolation, but to approach one’s individual circumstances with the wider community in mind. Sure, I could save money if I didn’t waste it. And sure, I can share more of my creative energy if I do not expel it on my choice in clothing each day. But even more than this, to live life prayerfully and with intentionality, this is the better thing.