Monday, December 01, 2008

My Midnight Mass

A letter to my grandson

(My grandson will be attending a religious retreat this coming weekend. He is fifteen. Family members and friends of the family were asked to write letters to him encouraging him in his spiritual growth and expressing their love for him. At one point during the retreat he will be given these letters to read in private. Below is the letter I wrote to my grandson.)

December 1, 2008

Dear Jakob,

At this important time in your spiritual growth, Papa and I want you to know that we love you more than words can ever convey. It is a love that resembles the love God himself has for you. It is unconditional love we have for you. It is love without strings attached. You did not earn our love and you will never need to earn it. It is free and yours forever and ever just because you are our Jakob. May this thought always be a comfort to you.

I have a special gift for you Jakob dear. It may take you a while, perhaps years, to fully appreciate it, because it involves heavy duty spiritual stuff. It is the story of my Midnight Mass. I hope it is an inspiration to you.

When I was a young girl of fifteen, your age exactly, I had an unusual experience during a Midnight Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in my home town of Manteno, IL. The year was 1955. That night at that particular juncture of the Mass the church was dimly lit by candlelight. The manger scene was situated in front of the Blessed Virgin’s altar. It was all decked out in Christmas greenery that perfumed the air inside the church. I was part of the Christmas choir and like everyone else in the choir I was dressed in a long white flowing gown. We looked like angels that had come down from on high to sing to mankind about the good tidings of the birth of the baby Jesus. Our choir stood alongside the manger scene. We faced the congregation as we sang.

The religious event had all the right ingredients in it for stirring the human heart, and at fifteen my heart was especially tender and easily stirred. So when our choir began to sing Silent Night, a lump started to form in my throat that would not go away. Soon after that my eyes welled up with tears and I found myself fighting the urge to cry profusely. Quickly I hid behind another choir member to escape notice. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. Then suddenly I realized I felt deep affection for the congregation and even for people beyond our church, people I didn’t know, people all around the world. For a few moments in that dimly lit church with the smell of Christmas in the air, I loved all of humanity. As I struggled to keep my emotions in check, I realized something else. I realized that I felt very close to God. I realized that in a profound and mysterious way which I would never be able to fully explain to anyone, I was experiencing God’s presence.

Our Christmas carol came to an end eventually. I managed to regain my composure as our choir filed back to our designated pews. Someone flipped on all the lights in the church. The Mass proceeded and then it came to an end as well. But the experience I had that night has remained fresh in my mind and heart all these years. Whenever I have had a strong need for a lot of spiritual sustenance, I have returned in my mind to my Midnight Mass and have relived those moments when I felt intensely close to God.

We are taught, Jakob, that God is everywhere at all times. I believe this with all my heart. The experience I had at that Midnight Mass has helped me to appreciate this. I am more sensitive to God’s presence in the most ordinary situations, too, as a result of my experience. A baby sleeps and I sense that God is there. A mother hugs her child and he is there. Someone hurts and he is there. I notice that he is with us always no matter the circumstances. He is with us in our joy and in our sorrow. He is with us when we succeed and when we fail. When we come and go, he comes and goes with us. He never abandons us. He is our constant companion, whether we are aware of it or not, and he is always available to us when we need to talk to him. I pray that with each passing day you become more and more aware of God and his presence in your life and his perfect love for you. I pray that you are drawn to him and that you come to cherish the time you spend talking to him or merely being with him.

The scriptures tell us that God is love. I believe this with all my heart too. I believe that God’s love is a forgiving love and the very life force in the Universe. This forgiving love is what overcomes all obstacles. This love is the good and the beautiful that triumphs in the end over the bad and the ugly. When we spend time in God’s presence, when we talk to him, we expose ourselves to his forgiving love and we gradually evolve into vessels through which his love flows. This is according to God’s plan as I see it. I pray that you become a vessel for God’s love.

God is Mystery. I believe this too. I have another special gift for you. His name is Mortimer Adler. But I will save this special gift for another time.

God bless you, my dear grandson.