August 6, 2021

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

Summer moments and the refreshing reality of the sacraments in full bloom

John ShaughnessyI sink my teeth into the red, juicy slice of watermelon and the sensation of summer fills my mouth, making me feel like a kid, ignoring all the rules of proper etiquette as I use the back of my hand to wipe the juice dripping from my lips.

I get the same sensation of summer from a chilled glass of iced tea or lemonade on a 90-degree day, a burger or hot dog sizzling on the grill, and a scoop—preferably two—of vanilla ice cream atop a large piece of homemade cherry pie.

Along with peaches, these are my favorite flavors of summer, all combining to create a sense of refreshment that is usually hard to match. And yet this summer, some special moments have provided a far more lasting sense of satisfaction.

It all began in a garden outside a parish church in California, where my wife and I had traveled for the baptism of our youngest grandchild. The garden was graced by a large statue of the Blessed Mother, and stones were laid out in a pattern amid the flowers to pray the rosary. Against that backdrop, the priest baptized our grandson and then raised the infant above his head, presenting him to God as the gift all children are—as three generations of family savored the joyful moment of life, love and faith.

Two weeks later, our travels took us to Pittsburgh where we had brunch with a young couple getting married the following weekend. Even before their wedding, they had lived the vows of “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” as shortly after their engagement he was diagnosed with cancer.

Months of treatments and surgeries followed. Yet their commitment to each other and their faith in God stayed strong. A new prognosis was positive, hopeful. And they both glowed as they talked about their upcoming wedding in a Catholic church. Even the cold, rainy day of the wedding—and a COVID restriction of just 30 people in the church—didn’t dampen their joy.

Joy was also the feeling that filled me on a recent Sunday morning while we visited our daughter in South Carolina.

She wanted us to experience her church and the eight o’clock Mass that’s her preference—a Mass time I usually associate with faithful people who want a quick, quiet connection with God. Yet in this church, the first driving, powerful sounds of music from the drummer, the keyboard player, the bass guitarist and the vocalist with the booming voice let it be known that no one would be sleepwalking through this praising of God.

This was to be a celebration. A celebration of the Eucharist. A celebration of young and old, of Black and white, of God’s people coming together to share their trust in him, their love of him. From the small boy wearing pink rain boots to the towering senior citizen in his Sunday finest of a royal blue sports coat and white pants—with his white hat next to him on the pew—the church was alive.

I walked from the Mass snapping my fingers to the rousing beat of the closing hymn, my smile matching how I felt deep inside.

Heading to our car, I thought again of the story that the deacon used to start his homily that morning.

He told the story of a small boy who entered a store with his mother, a store where the owner opened a can of nuts and told the boy to grab a handful. When the boy declined, both his mom and the owner encouraged him to take some. Again, the boy declined. So the owner reached into the can and pulled out a large handful that he put in a bag that he gave to the boy.

When they left the store, the mother said to her son, “You’re normally not like that. Why didn’t you take a handful?” The boy replied, “My hand is small. I knew I’d get more if I waited for him to use his hand.”

In the same way, the deacon said, God blesses us with so much more in life than we can ever grasp on our own.

I’ve experienced that refreshing reality again this summer.
 

(John Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion.)

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