By Deacon Art Donart
I had flown to Chicago so I could meet my friend, Uthai Panyapoon, with whom I had taught school at Prasertislan north of Bangkok, Thailand. I never would have accomplished what we were able to do to assist the poor there had it not been for her generous help.
She oversaw the building of the workshop and staffing of it so that poor people could learn new, valuable skills. She helped me upgrade the schools computers and take care of needy students.
After our visit, I traveled to the Lincoln Park neighborhood in time to attend the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Matthias Church. It is a huge church and the 11 a.m. Mass is sparsely attended. Still, I always look forward to it. It is very Catholic. It’s like a little United Nations: Asians, Latinos, African Americans, Polish and Irish among the worshippers. Having arrived early, I was praying quietly when a little, white-haired lady came up to me and asked me if I had a ticket to the spaghetti dinner that day. I answered no, but offered to buy one. She said, “Oh no, just take this one, it’s paid for and it’s an extra one.”
I learned from my Thai experience to just accept what people give me and say thank you; thus ending up with the ticket. After Mass, she caught up with me and showed me where the school gym was so I could get a spaghetti dinner. The Boy Scouts were serving. I took a plate and looked for a place to sit. Sitting at the end of a table was a man who looked to be homeless. Thinking it highly unusual for homeless people to be going to a Boy Scout spaghetti dinner, I walked toward him and asked if he minded if I joined him. He pleasantly urged me to sit and as I did I noticed quite a few more homeless people eating the spaghetti dinner.
As we got acquainted, he spotted the elderly, white-haired lady and yelled, “Peggy, I’m over here.” She joined us. Her name, Peg Willis, is listed in the parish bulletin under “Reach Out.” She had bought the tickets and handed them out to the homeless. She told me she wanted to help the Boy Scouts raise money for a camping trip. Then she left to visit the other homeless people three tables down. Mike, the man I was sitting with, told me that Peg cooks breakfast and serves it at a kitchen in the basement of the rectory on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. God bless Peg.
You might wonder what all this has to do with ritual and worship. Actually it has everything to do with ritual and worship. I’ve often heard people explain that their practice of “going to Mass” is “how we worship God.”
If that is all they do, it is a dead end to their obligations as Catholics. Jesus has made clear what God wants from us. God does not need our prayers; we need to pray. Yes, our rituals are an important part of worship. Peg attends Mass on Sunday, but she also worships Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays feeding the hungry. We need the Mass and other religious practices to help us live authentic worship every moment of our lives. The Mass is a shared action that we do as a spiritual community. As we share this experience together, we lend support to one another; we give visibility to “the body of Christ.” We are reminded that we are not alone, that God is with us, moving us forward to establish God’s kingdom both in this world and the next; a kingdom of love, not hate; a kingdom of enough, not greed.
Whatever our rituals, we need to be about authentic worship of our God. We may not neglect our needy brothers and sisters nor should we allow our society to be organized in a way that they are not cared for.
(Deacon Art Donart is a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)