Leaving and the Return

4 Jan

  My family loves to sit in the front of the church for midnight Christmas Mass, and every year other parishioners get audibly annoyed with us for saving an entire row up until the minute before Mass starts. My father has made it a habit, most likely developed in his bell-bottom bachelor days, which he can’t seem to grow out of completely, to be late for everything. After a few years of enduring the embarrassment I agreed to take the yearly duty of saving seats if and only if the rest of the family promised to arrive well before the altar boys processed down the aisle.

Leaving and the Return - Laura Eusterman

  Last year, I remember waiting such an uncomfortably long time for my family to arrive that I thought it best to kneel and pray before anyone could tell me that they wanted to take those seats. Everyone around me was chatting. I could not concentrate on the simplest Hail Mary, let alone any kind of heart to heart with God. He had seemed distant lately anyway. I hadn’t been able to hear Him even in the silent moments and purposeful prayer time in the past weeks, maybe months.

  Closing my eyes and bowing my head seemed to amplify the conversations around me. Why would He reach me in this echoing church if He hadn’t been speaking when I had been ready to listen? This frustration may have been as bad as showing up with my tardy family.

Trying to drown out the noise with my own thoughts and seeking mental escape only turned into criticism. “Some ‘house of prayer!’…Now I understand why natives don’t like tourists…If I see one more person texting in here I’m going to freak out.” It was the self-righteousness talking, not me. “This is not helping.”

I gave up, sat back, and picked up the Christmas program. The top of the page had a quote by the pope. It was something like: “Christ leaves so that He may come back again.” It struck me, not in the way of an answered prayer, but more like a surprise. God left His friends all the time! He came into the world as a man, He slept when the apostles were in a storm, He died, came back, ascended, and descended. He even showed up to two travelers only to vanish when they recognized Him.

This is exactly what Advent and Christmas, and my distraction in prayer, is about: recognizing that He is not here but that He will come. It may be true that He is always present, but we don’t always perceive Him. Some of the time it feels like he is uninvolved. He comes. He leaves. He does as He wishes, not as we want. I think He leaves to make His return that much more potent. I think He wants us to miss Him so that we fully embrace Him when He comes back. Needless to say, my family showed up, a little before right on time.

-Laura Eusterman

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