Five minutes after Mass

Let's draw a line. A stark choice confronts every Catholic, every Sunday after Mass: to run, or to linger.

Jesus Christ has, minutes before, entered our midst. Several moments of silence and peace hung in the air - sometimes the first quiet in seven days. Our prayers "arose like incense" as the Psalmist reminds us.

And suddenly, Father is giving the closing blessing. A baby cries. A kneeler slams to the floor. The organ fires up for the recessional hymn. The kids, sensing freedom with the first notes of music, chomp at the bit.

Run, or linger?

In my upbringing as an Evangelical Protestant, the recessional hymn was only a prelude - to an extended time of fellowship, food and coffee. Lots of lingering - at least 15 minutes, but often closer to an hour.

My parents would catch up with friends over a cup of coffee, while we kids would run around a gym, courtyard or church hall, playing basketball or some other game with our friends. Tons of noise. Sugar. Store-bought cookies and lemonade and lots of laughter. Our pastor always lingered, and we could all count on a weekly check-in with him.

While I have been Catholic for a good many years, I still cannot shake the muscle memory which comes with the closing hymn.

My wife and I are, for the most part, sticklers about sticking it out till the last word of the last verse of the recessional hymn. Our kids are holding firm (at least for now). Meanwhile, in a dizzying rush, 70 percent of our fellow parishioners vanish - breaking for the doors, some already holding their keys in anticipation of hitting the road.

I risk sounding judgmental, but I'll let the chips fall. As my seventh-grade daughter might say, "Just sayin'": Something important is lost in this collective rush to the car.

For the sake of argument, let's call the stampede to the parking lot and a Sunday chock-full of commitments the "culture of busy." I've been there and will continue to have days when that's my family, rushing for the door.

But to the discerning eye in those five minutes after Mass, there are at least three viable countercultures to the culture of busy. They are subtle. Like endangered birds, they don't attract attention. But they can still be spotted in most parishes - if you are attentive, quiet and looking for them.

Prayer

As the closing chords of the recessional hymn still reverberate, what better time than to drop to one's knees and offer the coming week - all of its crosses and joys - to the Lord?

Can't it all wait for just five minutes? Other parents who lead their children in a brief series of prayers after Mass inspire me to do better. I see individuals kneeling, intent and expectant in several moments of quiet prayer. These are countercultural men and women and children who sacrifice their need to rush - and instead find the greater pearl of prayer.

Devotions

A second counterculture thrives in parishes which are blessed with a statuary, stained glass or stations of the cross. In my parish, a steadfast minority of parishioners - instead of rushing for the doors - nearly rush to these powerhouses of prayer. Some touch the feet of the St. Joseph statue. Others kneel before the statue of Jesus and the Sacred Heart. Others place flowers before the statue of Our Lady.

With purposeful movement, these Catholics set a different tone. They remind us of the "catechism of stone" that our sanctuaries can be. They open our eyes to the sacramentals. These Catholics relate to the saints pictured in the stained glass on a first-name basis.

Fellowship

A third counterculture lingers in the wings, the narthex or on the sidewalk. These men, women and families take the time to ask one another a daring question: "How are you?" In the process, they discover a new promotion, an upcoming move, a diagnosis of cancer, a miracle or the ordinary ups and downs of another week.

All of this - wondrously - is in the air around us in those five minutes after Mass. If only we took the time to discover it.

Next Sunday, instead of reaching for our keys, let's pay attention to our hearts in those first minutes after Mass. Let's invite the Lord into a quick internal conversation about our desire to run, our desire to escape getting "bogged down" in a long conversation or the seeming brick wall we are hitting in prayer.

Just linger - and see what happens.

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's special assistant for evangelization and media. He can be reached on Twitter @Soren_t.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015