Depending fully on God

The other day, a friend and colleague forwarded to me an email that she had received containing a wonderful reflection by Fr. John Predmore, S.J., Director of Ignatian Ministries at Boston College High School. The article matched so much of my experience in celebrating the Mass as a priest and in my many years as a lay person at Mass in the years before. A resonance that was only amplified by last week’s leading an RCIA session on “The Mass and Eucharist” during which I talked about full, active, and conscious participation in the Mass. I reached out to Fr. John who graciously gave me permission to post this for your enrichment.

Fr. John wrote: “A deaf priest is part of our Jesuit community and he will say mass for us routinely. Lately as he has been presiding, I have found my mind wandering as I wonder about the mass itself. He is a cheerful guy and very generous, and I am conscious that a life with hearing impairments is certainly a lonely life. I make certain to talk with him each day, I share my homilies with him, and I try to affirm him and tell him that I’m grateful he is with us.”

“When he says mass, he signs the entire mass, which is incredibly moving. It is like a dance that unfolds before God and the community because it is poetic. Some parts are humorous, like when he shakes his finger at God and says, “Don’t look upon the sins our sins, but look upon the faith of the church.” The signing is quite enriching.”

“Sometimes I wonder why he signs the mass for us who do not read the language, but he speaks the words as well, but I accept it because it is part of who he is, and it is his conversation with God as well. I see that this is his self-offering to God in its fullness.”

“I have wondered why he does not just speak the mass because we can understand him, but he signs, which is like speaking twice to God, but I would not even suggest that he only say the words because signing is his best way of communicating because it is the fullness of himself, and I would not ever want to limit him. Sign language seems like a pure way of relating to God.”

“I do wonder if it is necessary to verbally respond to him as mass is a dialogue between the priest and the congregation and then the priest to God. If he cannot hear my words, is it necessary that I vocalize them? It makes me think of those people who inaudibly mumble the mass, which is quite common, but they do not feel as if they have to speak up at mass. I used to occasionally get upset and impatient at the people’s lack of responsiveness and it felt like the whole effort was upon me to carry the mass forward. However, I feel like I do not have to be loudly audible during mass with a deaf priest.”

“Mass contains an element of dialogue, and if one is fully participating at mass, then one needs to give full effort, but mass goes on just fine if little effort is given. The mass is the work of God and not of our efforts, and yet it is our chance to vocalize our prayers, our hopes and intentions, and the contents of our faith before God and the community. Yet, is seems a bit odd to speak these to a man who cannot hear what we are saying. The best answer to give is that we could learn sign language to communicate better with the priest; that would be the fullness of the relationship, but we don’t. My attempt to learn his language would lessen the burden upon him and it would strengthen the relationship, and it would make him feel more welcome. He is the one to make all the adjustments into a hearing world. He is the one who accommodates us. I recognize that the dominant hearing world does not make concessions easily or well.”

“And mass goes on, and God understands. It has often been said that Catholics do not sing and many times they do not utter their responses. Sometimes a priest wonders, “How can I get people to participate more fully, with more conviction, with greater acclaim,” but it is not going to happen. People are praying when they are at mass. Something still happens within them silently. It is not what we do that makes the mass happen. When we step into the worship space, God is already doing something with us, and we need that. Sometimes I feel like I want to be silent and speaking aloud would be an intrusion to what is happening within me, but sometimes I just want mass to happen to me, and I become quiet.”

“Participating in a mass with a deaf priest has taught me that God is very present and the mass depends fully upon God. I inwardly smile when new priests want to wear what they think is the right clothing, perform perfectly while in the sanctuary, and make sure the small aspects of the celebrations follow a particular form that they learned in seminary. I am all for liturgy being done well, and but “done well” part is what happens within the human heart. It is the love and affection that one feels towards God, and one’s dependence upon a deepening relationship with Christ that makes mass move forward. It is always about being and not about doing. My Jesuit brother, the deaf priest, often shows me that it is the full giving of oneself for God’s enjoyment and the benefit of the congregation that is the important aspect of mass, and I applaud him when he signs, which causes me to speak a little louder back to him as I am grateful that he is giving the entirety of who he is to God.”

Thanks to Fr. John for his permission to post his wonderful thoughts! Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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