I thought today’hts Mass was going to be a typical, ordinary Wednesday Mass.
I was surprised and when it began it was clear that it was going to be anything but ordinary.
There is a routine to each daily Mass. Everything follows along its familiar path, although each day brings with it a new reading, a new Gospel, and a new chance to experience a reenactment of the Resurrection through the Eucharist. (Note: I don’t participate in this yet, but I will after my baptism.) It doesn’t exactly run by clockwork, but there is a sameness that is the ritual of the Mass. However, that sameness doesn’t diminish from the traditions and the priest’s interpretations. I will often find guidance and solace as many of my morning’s questions are answered through those readings and interpretations.
Usually my mind is full, but calm as I wait to see which readings are prepared in the Missal and how much they will relate to my life.
For anyone not familiar with Catholic Mass, it begins with the Sign of the Cross, penance for our sins, opening prayer and then the readings and Gospel followed by the Homily and the Eucharist and a closing prayer and dismissal blessing.
The words change daily, the sins change, it’s all different and yet it is that sameness that we find comfortable and comforting.
Most days after the sign of the cross, there is a kind of preview. We’re told who the dead are that we are remembering at this Mass, if there are any crosses to be returned to families (on the anniversary of a family member’s death), any special visitors or what I like to call housekeeping (if there are schedule changes, an occasional weather report, etc.)
I try to fill my mind with what I’m looking for in the Mass, what I need for that day, and about whom I’ll be praying for. We pray as a community. The priest lists who we’re praying for and we ask G-d to hear our prayer. For me, I add my own, not always silently, but quietly: for the religious community, I add L, A, and F. For the sick, I think of who is ill in my life and whisper their names. For the dead, I’ve been adding my church friend, and I always add Brittany. I don’t know when I began to add Brittany, it’s been a long time, but I think of her every day when I pray. For the military, I add C and M. Sometimes, I’ll include C’s wife and family depending on if I think they need extra prayers. During the silence of our hearts, where we pray individually, I always include A and add anyone else who seems to be going through a rough time.
This morning before we thought on our own sins and ask for G-d’s forgiveness, Father J said that we had two special men in our midst and they would receive a special blessing today. They were Sal F and Tom S and they were two of the three local people who were Marines, members of the battalion that took Iwo Jima sixty-nine years ago today.
In looking around, we found them easily enough. They appeared older than anyone else at our Mass, and that’s saying something since at forty-seven, I’m one of the youngest people there. Both were bent over, unsteady on their feet, slow, even with the help of canes, and one of the men was wearing his red Marines baseball cap. From the back, he looked a bit like Winston Churchill.
When it was time for the special blessing, we all extended our hands to be part of the blessing over them. It was moving. And when it was over, as they walked back to their seats, we all stood up and applauded.
They were swamped by parishioners when Mass was over, everyone wanting to shake their hands and say hello. One person even took a photo.
I thought I’d want to say hello, but I felt funny approaching them. I went to my car, and when I saw that they were late in leaving, I decided to go over to where they were parked. This was a big deal for me; very much out of character. I never know what to say to people, but the more I thought about it, the more I steeled myself to ignore my anxiety and do it. If I hadn’t, I would have regretted it.
I waited and when they arrived at their cars, I got out of mine, and walked over to them. It had begun to snow a little harder and we were getting pelted with a wet hard rain-like snow.
I introduced myself and put out my hand to shake theirs. I said I wanted to say hello and thank them for everything they had done. Sal, who was closest to me, asked for a hug. We hugged tightly, and he thanked me and said G-d Bless you, and then I repeated it with Tom, who also wanted to hug me.
It was one of the most moving moments I think I’ve ever experienced. I would have continued to stand there even in the snow if that was what they wanted.
They both wanted to thank me. I remember Tom’s words: “Thank you so much, dear. It was a long time ago. Thank you.”
I hadn’t done anything; certainly nothing to warrant a thank you from two Marines.
It’s amazing how things happen in our lives with people we meet and how they affect our lives. People we might not have ever met if not for those circumstances. A crazy, random circumstance often initiated by someone else and it seems insignificant to us; until it’s not.
I’ve since had the opportunity to read about them. As it turned out, they were both on the cover of Our Hometowne, a local penny-saver newspaper, which was sitting on my side table. I saw it when it came, but didn’t pay it much mind, and then remembered it this afternoon.
When they enlisted, Sal was 18 and Tom was 20. They were not lifelong friends. They were part of two separate battalions that were joined at Saipan. They served together, but I don’t know if they had ever met on the island. Sal was wounded and according to the accompanying story, he was rescued by a tank driving over him and opening a trap door to pull him in. The trap door was coincidentally repaired by Tom. They both survived, received Purple Hearts among other decorations, and eventually met in the local Walmart years and years later.
Once again, my visit to Mass has given me more than I could have expected when I set out this morning.
Info on the Memorial: http://wwiimemorial.com/