FROM FATHER SMITH: EVERYDAY EATING
A couple of months ago, one late Saturday afternoon, I preached a homily to a small congregation here at Saint Mary’s. It was warm in the church. We’ve had some pretty hot days here in New York this summer, and the church doors were open. But it was mercifully quiet out there in our neighborhood. They’re building a hotel on the corner of Forty-seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, and that has slowed traffic down to a trickle. The sound of outraged drivers honking their horns is an everyday occurrence. You learn to speak up, or, when it gets really bad, you close the doors. But it was Saturday afternoon getting on toward evening. The construction workers had gone home, and the late-night weekend revelers, who only emerge after the sun goes down, were still taking their naps. It was quiet in the church as we welcomed the Lord’s Day, and that was nice.
I don’t remember which day it was exactly and so I don’t know what the readings were. But there must have been something in the day’s gospel that got me talking in that homily about eating. It was a friendly congregation, and the lateness of the day and the quiet in the church must have put me in a thoughtful, even confessional, mood. I found myself digressing, telling the folks about something that had happened to me over fifty years ago when I was in eighth grade.
I told them about a girl named Peggy. She and her family had just moved to my small town in Upstate New York, and her parents had enrolled her in our small parochial school. The school didn’t cook or serve lunch, and so we students ate our brown-bag lunches in the basement cafeteria, such as it was, or in our classrooms. Since we were older, we were allowed to eat, unsupervised, in our classroom. One day, not long after Peggy had arrived, I was standing in the back of the classroom during the lunch break talking with friends. I remember suddenly noticing that she was sitting at her desk by herself eating alone. She was a tall girl, and thin, with short hair. She sat upright, with great dignity, and she was eating a cupcake. Now, a cupcake is a celebratory food. You should not be forced to eat a cupcake all by yourself; as I stood there it seemed to me very sad that Peggy had to do that. I could have walked over to her, sat down, and begun a conversation, but I didn’t. I don’t judge myself too harshly for that. The rules of American adolescent society are strict and unforgiving. Mockery and derision are frequent, and the class system is rigid. It would have been risky for me, a short, shy boy, unsure of his place on the adolescent spectrum of coolness, to approach a tall, new girl and ask her if she’d like some company, and so I didn’t. But, still, all these years later, I remember the sadness of that moment. I remember my reticence and fear that was tinged with regret. I remember the moment as a lost opportunity. Who knows what might have happened? Peggy might have thought that the last thing she needed right then was some awkward boy she didn’t know trying to be “nice” to her. But who knows? Sometimes you have to take a risk, because, sometimes, grace just happens.
I remembered that moment again this week when I read a story online about a college football player named Travis Rudolph and a middle-school student named Bo Paske. Travis is a star athlete at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Bo is a redheaded young teenager, who happens to be autistic. Travis is black. Bo is white. Travis visited Bo’s school recently along with some of his teammates. During the visit, the players went to the cafeteria, which was filled with students eating lunch. Travis noticed that Bo was sitting all by himself, surrounded by empty places at his table, eating his lunch alone, and he did a lovely thing. He took his cafeteria tray and his slice of pizza and asked Bo if he could sit down and have lunch with him. Bo said, “Sure, why not?” And then someone took a picture. The picture went viral because Travis is famous and way off the charts on the high end of the coolness spectrum. But it really is a great picture. Travis, looking like a big teenager himself, sits there taking a bite out of his slice, listening with great attention as Bo, his lunch box open in front of him, tells him some story or other. There are many wonderful things about the picture, but the thing that I liked most about it is the deep down, everyday humanity of the moment. Two very different people have taken a risk. But, in the end, it’s just two people eating and talking and listening. In a certain way, it’s not a big deal. It’s what we do. We eat to survive, of course. But eating is more than that. Sometimes when we eat together we learn how good it is to be alive. We learn how good it is to be a human being. We learn that we are children of God with many brothers and sisters.
I am glad that eating and drinking are at the very heart of the Christian life. The Eucharist is the source of many blessings. It gives us many gifts. It is a source of strength and an antidote to fear. Sometimes it gives us much-needed courage. It teaches us that we are already loved and so are capable of taking many risks; and it teaches us that, sometimes, grace just happens. —James Ross Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Julie, Linda, Penny, Joe, Barbara, Sharon, Alanna, Peter, Philip, Jim, Brenda, Sally, Abraham, Suzanne, Jean, Juliana, Margaret, David, Heidi, Catherine, Donald, Sam, Burton, Toussaint, Dennis, Arpene, Takeem, Sidney, deacon, Horace, Paulette, David, Gaylord, Harry, Louis, priests, and Russell, bishop; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark and Nicholas. . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 4: 1925 Catherine Grabb; 1929 John Francis Casey; 1950 Neah Blade Mason; 1998 Patricia Gloor.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
BANNS OF MARRIAGE . . . I publish the banns of marriage between Peter Agnone Ruane and Alanna Kaivalya of New York City. This is the first time of asking. If any of you know any reason why they may not marry each other, you are asked to declare it. I ask your prayers for Peter and Alanna as they prepare for their wedding. —J.R.S.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Monday, September 5, Labor Day, Federal Holiday Schedule; the church opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM. Noonday Prayer at 12:00 PM and Mass at 12:10 PM. The parish offices are closed . . . Thursday, September 8, The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mass 12:10 PM, Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Sunday, September 11, 2016, 5:00 PM, Choral Evensong on the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Attacks of September 11, 2001. The service will be sung by the Charter Choir of Homerton College, Cambridge, England . . . On Wednesdays, the daily 12:10 PM Eucharist is a Sung Mass; on Thursdays the daily 12:10 PM Eucharist is a Mass with Healing Service.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . This week some new banners, designed to be hung from the scaffolding sheds on both Forty-sixth and Forty-seventh Streets, were delivered. The Forty-seventh Street banner has already been installed. The banners, which were designed by Sister Monica Clare, invite our neighbors to take part in our capital campaign, in order “to help restore our landmarked building.” The banner on Forty-sixth Street will be hung as soon as some necessary repairs have been made to the shed . . . West New York Restoration of CT, Inc., will be installing scaffolding this week on the fire escape between the Parish House and the church building proper in order to access, and perform some repairs to, the parish-house roof and gutters . . . Parishioner Linda Bridges was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday for some tests. She is doing well. Please keep her in your prayers . . . Adult Education: The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class begins its fall semester on Wednesday, September 21, at 7:00 PM, after the evening Mass, in Saint Joseph’s Hall. This year we will be reading Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans . . . The Adult Forum resumes on Sunday, October 2, at 10:00 AM. Seminarian Matthew Jacobson will discuss his summer internship in Rome. On Sunday, October 9, at 10:00 AM, parishioner Marie Rosseels will make the first presentation in our series “Learning How to Live and Pray with Holy Men and Women.” Marie will be talking about the Beguines . . . Homeless Ministry: We are looking for donations of clothing for distribution to the homeless in our neighborhood: jeans and slacks in a variety of sizes for both men and women; packs of new underwear and socks for both women and men; sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets and coats; dress shirts and outfits suitable for job interviews, and other items. Sister Monica tells us this week that we are especially short of women’s underwear, in various sizes. Cash donations to this ministry are also welcome! (The Book Sale has resumed in Saint Joseph’s Hall. We’ve received donations of some new books. Please take a look. All donations are used to support the Homeless Ministry.) . . . Altar Flowers are needed for the following Sundays and holy days: Thursday, September 8 (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary); Sunday, September 18; Thursday, September 29 (Saint Michael and All Angels); and Sunday, October 16, 23, and 30 . . . Father Gerth will be away from the parish on vacation until Friday, September 9 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 152.
MUSIC NOTES . . . Sharon Harms, soprano, is the cantor at the Solemn Mass on Sunday morning. During the administration of Communion she will sing Morgen! by the German composer Richard Strauss (1864–1949). Morgen! is the last of four songs comprising Strauss’s Opus 27. It was composed in 1894 as a wedding gift to his wife, Pauline. The poet John Henry Mackay, a contemporary of Strauss, is the author of the song text. Mackay associates images of the beauty of the created order with the hope of uniting love. Strauss’s musical setting is a work of elegant simplicity. —David Hurd
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Wednesday, September 14, Holy Cross Day, Sung Mass at 12:10 PM and 6:00 PM. The Rev. Alison Turner will preach at 6:00 PM . . . Wednesday, September 21, Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . Thursday, September 29, Saint Michael and All Angels, Mass 12:10 PM and Sung Mass 6:00 PM. Father Jim Pace will celebrate and preach at 6:00 PM . . . Tuesday, October 18, Saint Luke the Evangelist, Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . A couple of weeks ago we had two very nice visitors at the Solemn Mass who asked to speak to Father Smith during Coffee Hour. They wanted to tell us about an upcoming event in our neighborhood. The Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra will perform at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, October 15, at 2:00 and 8:00 PM. They offered to come and do a short presentation on classical Chinese music, which would include a description of the program for the upcoming concerts. We weren’t able to find a mutually convenient time for such a presentation, but we promised to let our parishioners know about the concerts. From Shen Yun’s website: “The Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra presents Eastern and Western musical traditions in a concert like no other. Shen Yun’s original music is inspired by 5,000 years of Chinese civilization and blends the beauty of ancient Eastern instruments with the power of the Western symphony orchestra. Highlights also include Shen Yun’s celebrated singers and purely classical masterpieces.” More information is available online.