This Sunday my parents sent me a message on whatsapp. They said that they had just been to their last 17:30 mass at Victory Park. They are moving down to Durban this week to be closer to my sister (and, naturally, their new granddaughter). They said that the music was lovely, that Byron and Julie had played together and that it brought back memories of the old days and all the times we had been to evening mass together as a family. It was quite a hard thing to read, sitting here in my room in Rome.
For most of our life in Joburg my family has always gone to the 17:30 mass at St Charles, Vicroty Park on Sunday evening. 18 years ago, when we first arrived in Joburg from Durban, the four of us basically adrift in the big city, we finally found St Charles and the 17:30 mass and once we did I think we realised quickly that we had found our home.
For me, it was the first time in my life that I actually looked forward to going to mass every week. I was 15 years old so it wasn’t anything too profound: I remember that I really liked the music (I memorised the words so I could sing them myself during the week), the priest (he always told a joke at the end of his homily) and yes, there was a really pretty girl in my catechism class who we would sit near sometimes during Holy Mass. It turned out that in the end I liked the music so much I joined the music ministry, I liked the priest so much I joined the youth group and I liked …Catechism so much, I got confirmed! (but no, I never told the girl I thought she was pretty 😛 ).
Last year, with the blessing of our Archbishop I entered seminary and am now on the path of discernment, study and preparation for becoming a diocesan priest. Ok so that is the short version, but that isn’t the focus of my story, it’s out parish.
When I think back to all the Sundays and weekday evenings I spent at St Charles, there are so many that stand out. Arriving at church as a kid, hoping that they would play my favourite song at mass that night… The night we all met at the church to go to a Tree63 concert all the way at Carnival City… The sugar fuelled youth group meetings… The time my sister was sick and we had to sit near the exit in case she fainted… Fr Fidgeon’s wise words and gentle manner… the first Sunday I had to “lead the music” on my own… My parents’ proud faces afterwards… My sister’s confirmation… The times my mom was sick and we were praying that she came out of the hospital soon… When we sold cheri after mass in winter to fundraise to go to the world youth day in Germany… Fr James’ epic singing… The funerals of our parishioners… playing music for the funerals of our friends’ loved ones… All the prayers we said together with the band in the huddle before mass… when I half killed myself of dehydration by cycling the 94.7 cycle race with 2 months training and a “low GI” diet but still showed up to mass with my medal (still proud of that one)… The XLT evenings… The Holy Thursday evening mass… the weekday mass crew… The long chats in the carpark with friends long after everyone else had left and they were locking that gate (and then to Mac Donald’s).
I know we all have our own memories of our parish… Some solemn, some happy, some imperfect, some utterly unique, but I bet that most of them (when we really think about it) are of a parish, an extended family, walking together through the ups and downs, guided and served by a loving father, with a common purpose… “this is my body… this is my blood… do this in memory of me”.
This is part of the reason why it was hard to hear that my parents had been to what might be their last evening mass at St Charles. For years and years this parish has been our home and I have felt comfortable there for so long. I know the mass times, the confession times, the times that the different groups and sodalities meet during the week… I know so many of the parishioners by name, and so many more by face (names have never been my strong point). Some of them I watched grow from primary school age to university, and others have watched me grow up. Leaving was hard. That my parents are no longer part of that family is a tough thing to realise. I have such gratitude to Our Lord for blessing us with this extended family of St Charles.
So ya, this was a long nostalgic post (good job if you made it this far) but I wanted to share my reflections with you to say a few things. To say thank you to the music ministry for their beautiful music on Sunday evening, it meant to the world to my parents. And to remind you of what you have in your parish, to not take for granted the people and the graces that God has gifted you through it. Sure, we all have disagreements at times and its easy to take offense and have our feelings hurt at church (that’s just more proof that it really is a family). Lets not let these things get in the way of the good we can do in each others’ lives through our parish.
Take the time to ask yourself how you can help those you see growing up around you every Sunday. Don’t let yourself become just a vague face on the other side of the church that dissapeared one day without word or explanation. Be the reason others, like me, think back on St Charles with fondness for the love of God that they experienced there through you, through the community. My advice, as to where to start: this Sunday go to the music ministry after mass and say, “thank you, that was beautiful, thank you for your service”, and give someone there a high five from me… And don’t stop there!