Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 31, 2016

Today, January 31, 2016

Today is the  First Day of the Fourth Week In Ordinary Time.  That’s the way it could be put in the calendar of the Catholic Church; the liturgical calendar, that is.  It really isn’t put that way; but, it might be in some alternate universe…if there are such things.  There a calendar, of the kind you put on the wall in the kitchen, might just possibly require a wall of its own to display a month; each day and its title needing a good amount of space.  And learning your way around it would probably require years of instruction at some Institute of Arcane Learning or other.  I remember the calendars we got each year at my parish when I was a child, calendars filled with the names of saints and their feast days, the special liturgical seasons outlined in different colors, and the notes explaining the rules and behaviors for each, the stories of the saints and their devotions.

Today, however, is simply Sunday.  My friend calls Sunday the day when all the good things happen.  I’ll take what I can get.

For many, perhaps most, it simply means another football game.

It is early in the morning as I write this.  I am in the little room we call an “office” in this, our new home, a condominium on the river here in Nashua.  It’s still dark, only a little after 4:00am.  It’s still cold as little rooms on upper floors should be.  It’s uncomfortable, too, as little rooms, etc..  There’s little doubt in my mind that it will be that way for weeks to come.  It is, after all, winter: a season which may not leave this room until mid-April. And, we are still moving in.

We must be away early this morning because we will be providing the music for Mass at 8:00am in St. John the Evangelist’s Church.  It might also have been called “The Little Church Across the River” in a more lyrical time than this.  It is the place where we do most of the kind of work God trusts us to do.

We have been there twice already in the past week.

Several days ago we provided the music for the funeral of a mature woman.  Her obsequies were not well attended.  Perhaps there were twenty mourners there, including one or two young children.  There wasn’t a coffin.  The deceased had been cremated, so a small brown wo0den box on a white cloth covered table at the foot of the stairs leading up to the altar was all that was visible of the deceased; her “Cremains”.  It’s an ugly word that has crept into the vocabulary as our culture changes rather quickly its way of saying farewell to “loved” ones; a small box or shiny urn, some flowers, a picture, and…

People gathered in the church before Mass began.  Some sat down in the pews and talked to the ones before and behind them.  Some gathered around the dead woman’s small box, and spoke quietly.

This has come to be called a “viewing”; this few minutes before what more and more people are calling the “service”.  I suspect the church will soon become the “worship space”; a space from which the sense of the sacred has been drained, a room not much different from a hotel meeting space.  It seems we have lost the names for such things, and much more that accompanies mere names.

And as Mass began, it appeared to me to be the way in which most of the people there to mourn the passing of the woman in the little box treated the event; as more or less a kind of meeting to which they had been invited, and of whose purpose they had , for the most part, no idea.  On the part of some it was a time to be endured.  Others “made the most of it”.  And, some few really did appear to understand.

It devolved into a time when, in the main, folks stood when they should have sat, or sat when they should have been standing, or tried one or the other in succession, and were silent throughout; lost and dumb.  I remember being not a little embarrassed for them.

Yesterday we were at the church again for another funeral.  This time it was a young man who had died from a drug overdose.  He had been in recovery, as the term is used, but had fallen out of it.  I am familiar with that kind of thing; a sad and tragic event whenever it happens, whomever is its victim.

Yesterday there was an urn instead of a little box at the foot of the altar.

It is quite possible that not one person in the room aside from the celebrant, the altar boy, a man in his early 70’s, and us in the choir loft…and perhaps the soul of the man now in the urn, with, one hoped a knowledge of such things, at last…knew the real reason for the time set aside to do what would be done over the next hour.

It has become common I suppose for the three day wake to be compressed into a few minutes of hugging and chatting before the “service”, and, again, yesterday was no exception.  The majority of “mourners” seemed to have wandered in off the street, meeting one another as one might in some mall, accidentally, casually, mildly surprised to see one another and carrying on in exactly the same way.  As Mass began, some did, still, carry on, chatting in the pews, and across the pews while Father George officiated.  I am reminded now of some of those booths in malls, where people conduct their business and crowds walk by, glancing from time to time at the ones working; unaffected by it, and really uninterested.  Their destination was Macy’s, or Target, or Bob’s Sports Equipment.

Many left after communion, and some, those who weren’t looking about for the exit after receiving Christ, chatted in the aisle on the way out, promising to “stay in touch”, telling each other how nice it was to get together.

One young man I noticed simply stood staring for several minutes, and I hope there was something taking place inside; some deep dawning awareness.

I am still wondering what happened, and hoping that something did; that during that sad time each of the people there at least once begged God’s mercy on the man who had died, and for themselves.  Maybe, some Sunday soon, they will awaken and think, “Today, instead of Jake’s Diner, I’ll go to Mass.”

Maybe today, the First Day of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, that will happen.  Do you think?

But, I wonder, too, if some widow in Zarephath is better placed and more ready for such a trip, for such a visit.









  1. Thank you for “burying the dead” . . .

    • You are very welcome, Sister.


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