The Mass amidst the Mess
Published on September 10-11, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
I was on the phone when the planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Fr. John Moriarty (the pastor then of Saint Martha’s in Prestonsburg) was in a meeting and he had asked me to answer the calls for the church. I had a couple of frantic calls after several of the usual requests for assistance with rent and utilities. I tried my best to help these two parishioners calm down but nothing I said seemed to be working. I didn’t quite understand what had happened but I knew it was something too serious for a seminarian to handle. I finally interrupted Fr. John in his meeting. “There is something going on,” I told him, “and apparently it’s on TV.”
He excused himself from the meeting and we went next door to the rectory to watch the news. What we saw looked like a scene from an action film, something that we would see in a Die Hard movie. It was horrifying just to sit there and watch this tragedy unfold, knowing that we were powerless to stop it from happening. For an hour or so we were either too shaken to pray or too confused to know what to pray for.
We had a Mass scheduled that evening and to this day I don’t think Saint Martha’s have had a bigger crowd for a daily Mass. The people came looking for answers to so many questions. They came seeking faith in the midst of their doubts, hope in the face of despair. I can’t remember what Fr. John had preached in his homily, whether he gave any answers, or summoned up our faltering faith, or inspired much hope. And yet, somehow, being there made the unbearable weight in our hearts somewhat bearable. I don’t know what it was—the familiar cadence of the ritual actions calming my shaken nerves, the crowd of believers assuring me that I was not alone in my anxiety, the prayers that I had said in many other tragedies consoling me again—but it helped me to sleep that night.
There is a lot to be said about the power of that Mass: how it drew us in our weakest moment and sent us forth strengthened, how it salved our wounds with words of salvation, how it awakened us to the reality that the God whom we thought was gone was right there all along, just an arm’s length away at Communion. This much I know: everyone who went to Saint Martha’s that evening didn’t know what or whom they were looking for; but they knew that they would find it and find Him there. In the midst of the senseless mess of that 11th day of September, it was only the Mass that somehow made any sense.