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Time to come home

First slide

The World War I movie "1917" ends much as it begins, with the protagonist, Lance Corporal Schofield, sitting in uniform under a tree. If you viewed only those two scenes, you might believe not much happens in the film — and what a mistake that would be. By the movie’s end, Schofield not only has learned the value of life — though that would be enough — but, tasked with the saving mission of calling off an attack, Schofield finds he also must fight for life. In the final scene, having accomplished his mission, Schofield rests under a tree and pulls out a photo of his family. The viewer knows where Schofield is headed, for written on the back of the photo is a simple inscription: "Come home to us."

Our 15-month long battle with an invisible enemy seemingly is coming to an end. And what would they say of us, generations on? Do we look as we did at the beginning of this sojourn, as we resume life as we knew it before March 2020?

While many of us suffered horrible, gut-wrenching losses of jobs, security and worst of all, loved ones, many of us also discovered quotidian joy of once upon a time. Children pedaled around with training wheels, then without; couples (and not just retirees) walked; in the Eden of backyards (and sometimes front), friends gathered and appreciated all the more the fraternity from shared food and drink.

And we livestreamed Mass. On one hand, it was reminiscent of periods throughout our shared history when the faith was practiced covertly, from Masses in the catacombs of ancient Rome, to Father Walter Ciszek, imprisoned in a Russian gulag, secretly distributing the Eucharist in the humble disguise of bread crumbs.

It was not the same, this deprivation, and we longed for the time when we could sit in that familiar pew. But it was comfortable and still felt like a blessing to hear the word of our salvation history, and even more so, the words of consecration that effect the greatest of miracles: "This is my body ... This is my blood … ." These words remind us we are enfleshed souls, that he became incarnate because we are. We need touch, sound, sight, taste, smell because that’s what we do. Streaming Mass into our homes was a comfort at a time when there seemed few. While our senses were limited to seeing and hearing remotely, bringing Mass into our homes kept us tethered to the one who keeps us pieced together.

When churches opened with limited capacity a year ago, some were comfortable returning to in-person Mass. While it has been a great comfort to attend Mass in person, masked and distanced, something was missing all along: everyone else.

It’s time to come home. Distancing requirements and mask wearing were lifted in most places, and our local church is calling us back. It’s only appropriate that the church do so, for as any son or daughter knows, after a life-changing event, the first place one wants to go is home. Home is where one is revived by the familiar. Home is where one is nourished by what can be provided only there. In his slim but potent book, "Bread That is Broken," Father Wilfrid Stinissen reminds us that "(Jesus) comes into us with all of his love, so that we can begin to love with his love." Streaming Mass simply isn’t enough; we are body and soul, and our bodies need the sensate experience of the Mass in person. 

It is achingly appropriate that we all be united in the Eucharist following this time in which each of us has experienced brokenness to some degree. Let us be united in the food of angels, provided by his own brokenness on our behalf.

It’s time to come home.

Doyle is director of religious education at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021