This nothing consecrated Catholic hermit returned to the parish last Saturday evening for the vigil Mass. I arrived early with the desire to enjoy and receive the cleansing Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka confession!).
The priest asked my name, his eyes searching within trying to remember and make the connection. Oh, yes--I was the one who had called and left message to receive the Anointing of the Sick (another marvelous Sacrament) and also a hermitage blessing.
Then he explained. The past week had been inundating with difficulty settling in. Dr. H. and some priests in the past have mentioned that I read people quite well. This priest did not need to say much more, but he chose to. He shared what an old priest once told him when he faced his first parish change as a young priest. "It is like starting a new family, all over."
And I added, "Yes, and the family is mostly adults who are well-entrenched in their habits and ways...."
The priest laughed and agreed. We each knew. I from my experiences as first a lay person and then as a consecrated Catholic hermit; he as a life-long Catholic--a seminarian and then a priest. I also knew from the times I had attempted going to the parish prior to this priest's blessed arrival. The parishioners were not accustomed to having a priest preaching homilies of substance and decent length, and on the Scriptures. They were not used to leadership nor an interactive, kindly, friendly, loving, vocation-suited priest who likes to teach how to apply the Gospels to everyday life.
Regardless, suggested he provide the Anointing right then and there. We agreed the Sacrament was foremost, and the hermitage blessing could occur at some later date. (Now I'm thinking perhaps sooner than later, though!) In this Sacrament, he reminded that not only would the Holy Spirit strengthen the body and mind and emotions, but it also was a strong defense against the devil--all types of oppression, discouragement, depression, and attacks.
Great! It was reassuring to learn that the Lord had sent a priest who is focused on the Church and the spiritual life.
After the Anointing, the priest said he was appreciative to have a hermit whose eremitic vocation was steeped in prayer. And I assured him that I would pray all the more for him and for the parish. I also mentioned to him that I realized the mystical state during Mass had caused some issues among the parishioners, subtly but obvious, the week before. It is to be expected but not necessary.... And the experience while nothing I have done or can do, either way--I do realize it is different, not the norm. Yet it is as it is; and there are benefits to others and myself.
However, I added that if he had any questions now or in future, to please simply ask me. I would answer honestly and directly. And, if the parishioners were awkward or turned to gossip, criticism, judging, or misunderstanding, they could approach and ask, as well. But he assured me that everyone is welcome in the parish, and that we are all "different" in some way or other.
The Mass was GLORIOUS. Deeper than the week before, longer. I do recall, as I always recall anything that is mentioned of the temporal unless a spiritual message that I'm to remember--that he spoke of perseverance. He gave a temporal example of parishioners during a summer position when he was in seminary. His weekday Mass homily (sermon) was longer than what the people were used to or liked. Some man kept calling out, "Too long! Too long!"
But the priest,persevered with what he had to share and teach. Later, the man who kept interrupting and saying, "Too long! Too long!" approached the priest and told him he was just trying to "encourage" him. The lesson was not only in persevering with the Lord and one's work for the Lord, but also that we each have our own perspectives and ideas of what is helpful or not.
Before and after Mass, this hermit smiled at the parishioners prior to entering and then when leaving the church. After, I even spoke to anyone who would allow eye contact: "Hope you have a wonderful week!" Only one parishioner spoke; she was at a table for sign-ups to have photos taken for a church picture directory. (Great--the priest was implementing that good and basic step to increase parish family cohesion!)
I asked if the table would be there next week. Hmm, I have been praying if a hermit would have its photo taken for a parish directory. I'm not inclined. It is not that the parishioners know I am a consecrated hermit, not that it matters if they do or don't. It is that somehow, I am not keen on my photo being taken, somehow, and identified.
I don't mind my name listed in the directory, just simply a name and phone number or such; I am a member, after all. But I also am aware that people might keep up the identity which is not really me, and that is: Oh, that is the person who seems deeply asleep during Mass, or the one who has an ecstasy during Mass, or the one who fakes a mystical state during Mass. My identity is not in some mystical phenomenon. My identity is being a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ.
The Lord has not fully answered my query on this minute topic, photo or no photo. He surely knows that all my life I have not enjoyed having my photo taken. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I am awkward or never felt as if I fit into my body? That I am a genderless soul and have this borrowed body for this earthly time period--I have felt that for years and years. It is not a vanity thing or a shame in my appearance, for the Lord has given me an attractive appearance--even if now the arduous life style has added years of wrinkles to my face.
I like to be more hidden, not so conscious of the outer. I love for people to get to know the inner, and for that, being photographed is all about outer appearances. I tend not to notice so much the outer appearances of others, unless something of their inner stands out, or something is not quite in syncopation with their inner. Hard to explain. But I do notice the outer, and I love to tell people how beautiful when they are, for that is the soul shining through--the kind of beautiful I comment upon.
Regardless of the minutiae aside regarding a hermit having a photo in the church directory--the Mass was life-sustaining! I did not realize just how much I missed not being able to be temporally and mystically present at Mass! And these days, an hour or so of no physical pain (selfishly!) refreshes my body and gives my mind and heart a respite from suffering. Thank you, His Real Presence, for loving me like this!
Hearing the spiritual of the Mass, each Living Word and then being subsumed into bliss during the Consecration of the Host, has me desiring for the next Mass, and the next.
But we are sent out, to take the portion of union with God with us, out into the world, or for a hermit, into stricter separation from the world in the silence of solitude, to pray, praise God, and to do penance. And we have His Real Presence through us, with us, in us, and His Living Word whenever we choose to read or recall Scriptures.
As for any Mass being "too long, too long!"--I wrote in the little thank you to the priest that his Masses are never too long. The Mass is the Stairway to Heaven. Who would want that access truncated?
As for if the priest later on still has the loving attitude that I am always welcome and he'd never suggest I not be there, we will see. After some of what I've endured in the past, and of how the devil operates in trying to interfere, create doubts, bring tension, I will take it one oh-wow Mass at a time. It's just such a supreme joy to have a priest celebrating a glorious, licit, Living-Word-based Mass! The more spiritual and holy the celebration of the Mass, and the more loving the soul of the celebrant, the deeper the mystical ecstasy!
I will return. Only God has the right to pluck me out through physical inability to be there or through death, or in the unusual case of the past couple of years, my spiritual father/director told me due to some circumstances, not to return until the Lord brought a different priest. Otherwise, from now on, as best as I can have faith and courage, I'll be run out by the devil.
But the Mass--oh wow! Been strengthened in ways I'd forgotten, from the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, Sacrament of Reconciliation, and beyond all else, by the Mass, the Mass!