Looking back, a story about Christmas Mass at Cathedral

Dec 27, 2015
I love going to Mass at a Cathedral. What Cathedral, you ask? It could be any Cathedral. In our country or in foreign countries. The word “Cathedral” means “chair”. A Cathedral has the chair of the Bishop. Cathedrals are interesting places of worship and hold within many pieces of history. In Europe a Cathedral may contain the crypts of religious, royalty and even local politicians. Cathedrals usually have above average liturgical music. There may be exquisite stain glass, statuary or other art. The architecture of the ancient Cathedrals causes my mind to wonder “How did they do that?”

The Catholic Church is universal. Being universal means anywhere in the world you go, the Mass is the same. Without understanding or reading the Mass in English, a Catholic understands what’s going on.

I have visited many Cathedrals and churches in Europe. This year alone I have visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Burgos, Spain Cathedral which is a UNESCO site, the Cathedral in Leon which is often referred to as the Cathedral of Light and, the Cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In 2009 I visited many Cathedrals in Germany and France, yet my favorite will always be the Cathedral at Chartes, where a labyrinth has adorned the floor since around the year 1230.

I “googled” Catholic Churches to find one nearby for Christmas Mass. Exploring the area early, we drove by the Cathedral. Its a red brick building. It looks to be three stories high with a very tall steeple. I wonder what will strike me when I visit the Cathedral in this city. Christmas morning about 10:30 am we arrive at this Cathedral… St Andrew.

As I enter the sanctuary, I hear the choir. The choir seems so very far away in the choir loft which is up above a balcony. The choir is accompanied by organ and trumpet. The music is breathtaking. When I hear such special music I do not sing. I listen with all my senses. Thirty minutes before Mass the Cathedral is almost full. Charlie and I work our way to open seats near the front. The congregation is so diverse! There is a man with Down Syndrome sitting in front of me. His mother helps him find the pages in the hymnal. A man with a walker is in another pew. The usher bows to this man as he relocates to another seat. I hear foreign languages around me as more church goers find their places in the packed pews. I see people who have physical characteristics much different than my own. There are people native to this area. People of all ages. All different types of flesh tones. Brows which are heavy or light. People who are tall or short in stature. A beautiful East Indian family with the women dressed in saris and the men in finely tailored silk suits pose for photos in front of the creche. And of courses there are people who look much like this blonde North American girl.

The language of the Mass is English, but it’s noticeably difference from eastern Oregon English. The lectors, a man and a woman, proclaim God’s word in British English, more specifically British Columbian English. I think of Fr Luis as I listen. I have the urge to model a different pronunciation as I have often said to Fr. Luis “this is how we might say that here”. This is their territory, and I must mind my manners as a guest. I listen very carefully to the epistles, one Old Testament reading, a psalm lead by the cantor and then a New Testament reading. I admit I continue to be distracted by the accents of the lectors. Although their reading is totally intelligible it is noticeably different than the familiar voices I have listened to read for the past 40 years in my home church. The presider stands and the book of the gospels is well blessed by incense. As he reads I am worried that this flat monotone voice will deliver a flat colorless homily.

But I am surprised, astonished at the depth my heart is moved. It is two days later, and I am still pondering this message. This is my recollection of this priests words and I have filled in quite a bit more detail from research. I hope you as the reader will respond to what follows.

He begins:

“Masses of Christmas Eve were celebrations of the coming of the child Jesus.

Masses of Christmas morning have different readings. We do not so much celebrate as we reflect.”

Continuing he says

“Last night the bishop presided and I con-celebrated the mass. As we made our way to the sacristy after mass, Bishop turned to the me and asked, would you forgive a person who confessed to you he was responsible for the murder of 6 million people?.”

“Did this happen to you, Bishop?”

“No this is in reference to the book The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness”

(By Simon Wiesenthal, this book recounts the thoughts of 50 renowned theologians, world leaders and peace advocates who are asked if the horrendous crimes of the holocaust can be forgiven.}

The homilist now shifts away from forgiveness and reads a litany of recent “head lines”. . .

Lunch room worker fired for giving free lunch to middle school girl with no money

China ends one child policy

Star Wars movie hits one billion dollars

But then he pauses

Woman who survived for three months hidden in 3 foot by four foot bathroom with 7 other woman takes oath of American citizenship

The Cathedral becomes totally still. No one is shifting in their seats.

Even the soft baby babbles and squeals are silent. The congregation listens even more attentively as the homily continues (I have added further background information)

In 1994 Immaculee llibugiza, a young Catholic college student in Rwanda was home for the Easter holiday. Her world changed drastically as the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. The assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country. Not even small, rural communities like Immaculee’s were spared from the house-by-house slaughter of men, women and children. Seven other Tutsi women joined her in hiding in that three by four foot bathroom. The space was so tight the women took turns standing and sitting. Food was scarce and Immaculee’s weight dropped significantly. Horrendous bloodshed occurred directly outside the thin walls of their hiding place. Her father had given her a rosary. She started praying the rosary and the chaplet of divine mercy. She prayed 27 complete rosaries and many chaplets each day. She became very peaceful and remained at peace and learned to have mercy on, and forgive the murderers just outside the walls of her hiding place.
After 91 days of terror, Immaculee’s’s prayers were answered. She was liberated from her bathroom prison cell and faced the horrific reality: Her entire family had been brutally murdered, with the exception of one brother who was studying abroad. Nearly 1 million Tutsis were massacred during the 100-day genocide. Her family, her townspeople, fellow college students were viciously murdered, chopped apart with machetes. Their bodies were used as roadblocks or dumped in the streams that created a river of blood to Lake Victoria. Later after emigrating to the US she tells her story in her first book:

Left to Tell.

My thoughts: I would not have survived.

She did.

The priest continued to deliver his homily

Another woman, also a Catholic walked across the killing fields shortly after the massacre had ended. She came across a boy who she had known to be a Catholic.

“I no longer believe in God,” the boy said.


“God made trees and a tree can make another tree

God made elephants and an elephant can make another elephant

God made Jesus but he will not make another Jesus.”

I don’t remember if the priest said anything after this. I was puzzled and awestruck and moved…so many questions and responses welled up inside me.

What exactly does this mean?

How do these stories all relate?

Today, as Charlie drove us home through the snow and rain, I sat in the back seat pondering this homily. This is my response.

I believe God the Father did make other Jesus’s.

Each one of us.
The boy was blinded by the massacre, the hate, the blood
How could he see?

I am thinking … its up to us to BE the Jesus we are.

To be for others the Jesus we are

To make the Jesus we are real

To make the Jesus we are come alive

The others will then know the Jesus alive in them

And be the Jesus they are

To make the Jesus they are real

To make the Jesus they are alive to others

Then these others will BE the Jesus they are..

Truth Forgiveness Mercy Justice

Pope Franscis declared this a year of mercy

I will visit a Cathedral, somewhere…

I will take my beads and kneel in a pew.. I will imagine the horrific situations of the Holocaust, the genocide which continues throughout the world, the results of terrorist activity, the mass shootings in schools and churches and malls…

I will pray for mercy.

Have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Please comment. I love to hear your thoughts!

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