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Attended mass today in what is probably the most beautiful, modern Catholic church in Waukesha County: St. Jerome's, Oconomowoc. The occasion was a quarterly breakfast meeting of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Before I even entered the church I was surprised by the lovely entrance, garden and landscaping. The entry doors were a good 12 feet tall and balanced to take no extra effort to open. The holy water font is a three foot diameter sculptured bronze sphere with the water gently overflowing it's top and cascading down it's side.
Finding a seat with my friends, I took in the beauty of the surroundings while waiting for the service to start. Knowing that a church is but a building, I closed my eyes imagining what a blind person would experience of God in such welcoming place for the sighted. My first thought was the music. A woman at a grand piano was effortlessly playing a complicated piece before the start of mass. At her conclusion the deserved applause, as is usual during mass, was absent. In a few moments, after the opening hymn, we were introduced to the piano player. She was raised in Lithuania before moving to Milwaukee and is now St. Jerome's new music director. She got her well-deserved applause.
The readings of the day were familiar. Genesis told how all the animals received their names and how woman was formed from man. Another reading had questioners asking Jesus if it was all right for a man to divorce a woman.
Rev. Tom Manahan, SJ, the weekend associate, talked at length in his homily about two people becoming one and the commitment and work of marriage. (There was a wedding ceremony at the parish just yesterday and a unity candle still rests on the altar.) He mentioned knowing people married just a year or two and going through divorce, and he spoke of a couple celebrating 70 years of marriage. At this mention he choked up and a tear rolled down his cheek.
Father Manahan knows it's impossible to predict what good and bad the future will hold for a newly married couple, but they will continue on together, as one. He spoke of the many prayers bestowed on married couples, but the lack of prayers for those dating or engaged. I suppose he has a point. Maybe if more prayer went before the marriage there would be less divorce after.
This wasn't an average sermon. Fr. Tom spoke with emotion and from over 22 years of priestly experience. He was talking directly to me as a married man whose marriage hasn't always been smooth. He made us understand that a unity God has blessed can not easily be separated. While he talked I was reminded of my Uncle Lee, who performed our wedding ceremony, and wondered if Fr. Tom had known him.
After mass I had to speak with Father, and sure enough he had known my uncle. He related how he once drove a support vehicle for my uncle and sister as they took part in the RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa.
This mass was a religious experience for me, and that's why I share it with you. The church building itself is so beautiful that this would have been enough. But the message, a message even a blind person could relate to, is what it's all about. For an unmarried man to speak at length and with great conviction, knowledge and emotion about marriage... For the message to relate to me directly... For reminding us of the task at hand...
Preach the Gospel every day and, if necessary, use words.