On Mass at the Hospital and True Participation

Dear readers, I have had a hard time keeping up with this website the last few weeks because I have been in the hospital.  My oldest son, who is paraplegic, had a major surgery for scoliosis at the end of July; he and I spent almost a week in the hospital recovering.  The next few weeks we were at home, and those weeks were also hard – I have found that disability and hospitalization have not been hard in the ways you’d expect, but have been hard in ways I didn’t expect.  Then last weekend there were some Sistine Adamcomplications from the first surgery, and our doctor told us to go to the emergency room.  Then there was another minor surgery, a small infection, and another week we have spent in the hospital.  We aren’t home yet, but it looks like we’ll go home Monday.

 

Exhausting.

 

(But by the way: Joseph’s doing great.)

 

Now, I might write this to apologize for not keeping up with my reflections here, but actually, I want to make a theological point.  (It’s actually a point that explains why I want to keep writing these reflections, as much as I can.)

 

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Most of these days I have managed to get to Mass.  But what is Mass like when you’re exhausted in the hospital?

 

On one level, it looks like not having the strength to pray, flopping in the pew with my mouth hanging open, trying to remember where I am.

 

But it means more than that – and this is an important point about liturgy and about grace.  The thing is, the Mass (and the Liturgy of the Hours, and the quasi-liturgical rosary) gives me an opportunity not just to sit slack-jawed, but to have intense moments of prayer.

 

St. Thérèse used the image of an elevator.  God does all the work – which is good when I haven’t the energy to climb the stairs.  But I really rise.  The divine elevator doesn’t leave my behind.

 

I don’t have the words to pray – but the Mass does, and now and then I can grab on to those words and pray with the full intensity of the Mass itself.  We are not meant to sit there slack-jawed.  We are meant to participate in the greatness of the action.  In the Mass, Christ puts himself in our empty hands, so that we who have nothing to offer can offer all the awesomeness of God and of the Cross.

 

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The key to Christology is that Christ is not part man and part God, he is 100% God and 100% man.  Normally it doesn’t work that way, you can’t be two natures in one person – but in this case, it is not a zero-sum game.  He doesn’t have to be less man to be more God, or vice versa.

 

(Creation, actually, is parallel.  The sun is not less a sun for being created.  It is 100% created by God and 100% the sun.  This is how the relationship between God and the world works.)

 

It is the same way with grace (and the liturgy).  It’s okay to say that we “cooperate” with God – but far too often we imagine it’s 50% God and 50% man – or in hard times like this, maybe 98% God and 2% man.  We can be tempted to say God prays “for us,” in our place, so that it’s okay that we sit there slack-jawed, because anyway, God’s doing the work.  He goes up in the elevator so we don’t have to.

 

When we sin, it’s like 100% God and less than 100% man.  We are not receiving all that he has to give us.  We are at 50% – or far less.  But when we are weak, it is not like that.  When we sin, it’s like God is pouring water, and we are moving our glass out of the way.  But when we are weak, it is more like we have a smaller glass, but God still fills it all the way.  (That’s another Thérèse image.)

 

When I get distracted at Mass because I don’t love God, I don’t pray as much.  When I get distracted at Mass because I am exhausted, in some sense I also don’t pray as much.  But there’s a big difference between leaving my glass empty because I refuse to receive, on the one hand, and on the other hand, having my tiny weak glass completely filled by the awesomeness of God.

 

The point is: we are supposed to pray at Mass.  That is the whole gift, the whole point – of Christianity, really: God acts on us so that we can receive his fulness, so that we can be, not only active (on our own) but “activated,” brought to life by his touch.

 

Moments of exhaustion are a great time to discover that God does great things in us.

 

When have you experienced God bringing you to life?

eric.m.johnston

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