I am of an age to begin to wonder what my "golden years" will be like. It seems as we get older, we often become more of who we really are. Sometimes that scares me. I know the sometimes ugly litany that goes on in my head, the ornery, judgmental me that I work so hard to keep at bay. What will I be like, in years to come, when my better self no longer stands watch over my lips? Is there enough time that I can reform myself in fundamental ways so as not to be a total pain to those around me? Is that even possible?
There's a man in the little community of Catholics that gathers at the downtown church for daily mass. He's an older man, who has long outlived his wife and one son, I never knew him as a vital, young mover and shaker in Catholic and social circles, but I'm told he was something.
The years have taken their toll. A cadre of younger men collects him in the mornings to bring him to mass, and they coordinate their duties with the care of devoted family. He rarely misses a day, They make sure he remembers his coat, or hat or umbrella, and they shepherd him to his accustomed seat on the right side, front row, next to the wall.
After a few years of sitting several rows back, and generally on the other side, I know something about who this old man must have been, because there is no longer a self that closely guards his words. He desperately misses his wife and son, and often during the prayers of intercession talks aloud to them, particularly to his wife, and sometimes, his momma and daddy and a woman I take to be his sister. He tells them he misses them and he needs them and often, that he is sorry for things he did. He talks to them as though they were sitting right beside him.
And I'm guessing he had an eye for the ladies, because he's wont to tell whatever woman sits behind him that she's beautiful or that he loves her. I'm also guessing he was a man in charge, because he's been known to scold the priest for starting mass without him when he's late. He almost always cautions the celebrant to "Be good today, Father," which brings a smile to the lips of those who know him, and curious glances from those who don't.
But what strikes me most is that deep in his bones resides the mass and all it means. Past ninety now, he still genuflects at the end of the row of seats that are lined up in the chapel. He still sometimes serves as an Extraordinary Minister at Sunday mass. Most telling, he often recites the words of the mass along with the celebrant. So invariable is this custom of his that I wondered when I first started attending whether he might be a retired priest.
And at the end of the mass, he invariably responds after the dismissal with "You did good, Father."
It might take a team of men to get him collected, to make sure he finds the page in the missalette, and to ensure that he goes home with all the things he came with. But he still knows how to talk to God, he lives in the very midst of the communion of saints, and he still knows the words of the mass--all of them. And he still remembers to say, " Thanks."
It's impossible to start getting older and not realize that we will leave behind much of what we have been, who we "are." Truly, only God knows what antics I will engage in when my time comes. I hope that they will be, if not endearing, amusing and at least tolerable to those I love and those who love me. And in the center of it all, deep in my bones, I hope that I retain that ability to enter into the mystery and the reality of the mass.
No matter what, even if I cannot articulate it, even if it comes out loud and sometimes garbled and occasionally inconveniently, let me never lose my love for the mass, for my Lord present to me and with me in a way that defies explanation under the best and most lucid of times. Please let it wash over me and nurture me and sustain me to the last. Let the mass be so much a part of me that I know its words and rhythms and importance from a place so deep inside that it never gets lost.
In all those things, please God, let me be Frank.