No one came to Mass at the senior center yesterday. I did all the prep. I did a site visit last week to get to know the space and how I would set it up for prayer. I ironed the altar cloths. I researched and prayed with the scripture, and prepared a homily. I wrote a welcome and some petitions, and ran through the Mass a couple times. I prayed for the community that I was entering, and I prayed in preparation to serve. I drove across town to pick up the freshly baked bread that my friend Aisha, who is not even Catholic, graciously makes for me because she is such a wonderful person (thanks, girlfriend!). I packed up my car and got there an hour early. I set the chapel up just so. I vested, then sat in prayer waiting.
At 2:03 pm it was obvious that no one was going to come to Mass. This could be because I was female. It could be that people are out of the habit of going to Mass due to the pandemic. It could be that even Roman Catholics in this community have given up on the Church. It could be that the administrators did a poor job communicating the opportunity to the residents. Maybe it was a mix of all of the above. Whatever the reason, it hit me kinda hard, and I was surprised by my reaction. After all, none of what I am doing is easy. Still, I thought at least 2 or 3 people would attend, especially after the conversation with staff. As I sat and waited, my heart sank. So. Much. Work. It took the wind out of my sails for the rest of the day. Even though I had so much to do, I ate some brownies instead and went to bed at 8 pm.
I feel defeated at times. This is just the truth. But, thankfully, it doesn't last long. I know in my heart all the work I did--that I am doing--is not for naught. In this case, I learned about designing and preparing a daily Mass, which I have never done. I had the experience of creating a relationship with a facility as a female priest. I learned about sizing up a new space for liturgy. I had the experience of preparing two Masses in one week, and how challenging this is. Though no one showed up, there was a tremendous amount of fruit along the way. I regularly have to practice remaining rooted in this frame of heart.
In truth, I must fight for every single opportunity to minister as a priest. I put in enormous amounts of labor for just a handful of people. But, that's okay: even if my work is for one person it is worth it, because that one person is everything to God. And further, just my existence as a female Roman Catholic priest--whether I minister to one or one hundred people--is a testimony to the truth that God is calling women to serve as priests. Thus, I will always bring my A game, even if no one shows up. By honoring my vocation each day and in every task, God makes me a better priest and a better person, all the while trumpeting to the world that gender equality within the Roman Catholic Church is possible.
I am excited to say that I made a connection with a senior living center here in Albuquerque! Thanks to your support, I will start saying Mass and providing pastoral care to this community next week. I still have to learn if they are comfortable with a female Roman Catholic priest, but I am hopeful.
When I went by there today to size up the chapel, I witnessed the most tender moment. I was waiting in the lobby when an elderly woman, perhaps in her 80s, was being escorted by hand to the front desk by a young female caregiver. She shuffled ever-so-carefully to the receptionist and asked when her son was going to arrive. The young woman at the desk was kind and deeply patient. She said with a smile, "He will be here in a couple of hours. Would you like to wait out here or in your room? He usually meets you in your room." The resident cocked her head and answered, "He does?" She was from the memory care unit. The receptionist smiled again and nodded, "Yes, he does." "Okay," she answered, "I will wait in my room." She turned around, took the hand once again of the sweet, young caregiver, and began the slow shuffle back to her room. I had to work to keep my composure. It was God in plain sight.
Life is so very difficult for so many, and for reasons we often cannot understand. Yet one thing is certain: God is always with us, persistently trying to break into our lives at every single moment--and often succeeding. Let us cultivate the spiritual practice each day of finding and cooperating with this Spirit as often as we can, for it is the only thing that will lead us to the world of peace and justice that we all want to see.
Let us all be patient and kind to one another. Oh, how the world would be.